COVID-19 may have disrupted senior year for the Class of 2020, but community members on both sides of the county are taking it upon themselves to create a prom for both Cherokee and Volunteer High Schools.
Though Director of Schools Matt Hixson told the Review that the school system is not sponsoring any proms this year, they are supportive of the community efforts.
Volunteer’s prom will be held on Saturday, July 18 at Surgoinsville’ new Sayrah Barn, which is owned by Megan Lawson. Thanks to numerous generous donations, the prom will be entirely free for the seniors and their dates.
Though the community members in charge of planning the prom have only been working on the event for about a week, they have almost everything planned already.
In addition to securing the Sayrah Barn as the venue, Ridge Charles will also be the prom’s DJ and will offer photography services. Each senior will have a photo taken and will be given a link to a website where, for up to three months, they can download and print off any photo they want for free.
Sticking with the theme the VHS prom committee established before COVID-19 closed the schools abruptly, seniors will be celebrating the prom in “Roaring 20’s” style.
“We plan to make this a very special event for our seniors,” said organizer Christina Bellamy.
Stay tuned to the Review’s Weekend edition for an article about Cherokee’s prom.
Working with a zero-dollar budget
“Christina Bellamy has organized a massive group of people who will be there to assist with the prom,” Megan Lawson of The Sayrah Barn told the Review. “A lot of parents and a lot of just good, generous people are trying to make sure that these seniors get the best opportunities and the best event possible.”
“We have a zero-dollar budget,” Bellamy told the Review. “Megan Lawson has very generously donated the venue (The Sayrah Barn), and my husband and I are covering the DJ and photographer. None of these funds were school funds.”
When asked why she felt compelled to put this event together and offer her own generous donation, Bellamy said, “I just was sitting around and, since I am retired, I have a lot of time on my hands. I was just a little bit heartbroken that these kids weren’t going to at least have a prom.”
She also taught at VHS for 10 years before transferring to McPheeter’s Bend Elementary School to teach until retirement.
Bellamy also noted that she and other community members are working to ensure that every senior has a gown or tuxedo.
“We have a lot of people who have volunteered gowns if any girl needs one,” she said. “If we can find their size, we will move mountains to try and find them a gown.”
She has also listed links to tuxedo shops on the event’s Facebook page.
Bellamy is currently unsure of whether or not the community-led prom can access the decorations that the school purchased pre-COVID-19; however, she noted that the students have been very gracious so far.
“I actually had a comment from a senior on the event page that they are just so grateful to have a prom that we could go to Dollar Tree and buy some streamers and silly string, and they would still be tickled,” she said. “This is a great bunch of kids.”
The group Facebook page will be linked to the free online version of this story.
Prom amid social distancing
“People are asking me ‘what about social distancing?’” Bellamy told the Review. “We’ve already made arrangements. The barn is huge. The entire outside is also available. So, if need be, we will move tables and chairs outside. We will be safe because these are our kids. We don’t want anything to happen to them.”
“I believe that, since we’re pushing the date back so long, hopefully the guidelines (for social distancing) will have changed a little before the event goes on,” said VHS student board representative Tyler Lawson.
Bellamy also noted that this year’s prom will be exclusively for seniors due to social distancing. Each senior is allowed to bring one guest.
“Only VHS seniors can RSVP to the event, but their date or friend can be from any school,” she said.
There are roughly 250 people in the VHS senior class and the group already had 136 RSVP’s as of May 8.
“It’s still early, so we may have more as the word gets out,” she said.
The group has given a July 1 cut-off date to RSVP to the prom.
“It doesn’t bother me that it’s a seniors-only event, but I think if I were a junior, I would be upset,” VHS senior Hope Bachman told the Review. “They have every right to a prom that we do. The only difference is that this is our last prom.”
“For the most part, the feedback has been very positive,” Bellamy told the Review.
Megan Lawson agreed and added, “everybody is just offering their assistance. People are saying ‘thank you!’”
“I feel like it will be a great experience to get to have our last senior memory of us all together,” Tyler Lawson said.
Thanking the community
Bellamy asked to recognize the following people for their generous donations to make the prom happen:
The Sayrah Barn, Megan Lawson, Rick and Joyce Smith, who donated the venue
Jason at Church Hill Food City, who donated veggie trays
David at Food Lion, who donated fruit trays
Shon Flanary of CASVA Farms, who gave a monetary donation
Aaron Flanary of Whistle Stop Market, who gave a monetary donation
Sharon McClellan of Super Party, who gave a 50% discount on tablecloths
Jeff at Bellamy Farms, who gave a monetary donation
“And, of course I would like to recognize each and every one that has volunteered thus far,” Bellamy told the Review. “We can’t do this without our amazing community.”
Graduation plans being revised
As the Review reported in the May 9 Weekend Edition, the Hawkins Co. School system has received mixed reviews of their tentative graduation plan that they released last week.
In response to the student and community feedback, Hixson announced at the May 7 Board of Education meeting that he would be conducting a virtual meeting with the student board representatives for input.
These students include the aforementioned Tyler Lawson of VHS, Cooper Bolton of CHS and Hannah Lamb from Clinch.
“No plan is perfect, especially one that differs from tradition,” Hixson said Thursday. “Graduation is one of the most cherished traditions one remembers for his or her life. This year we know one thing for certain. Graduation, much like anything in normal life, will be much different.”
As of the Review’s Tuesday morning press time, no updates on the virtual meeting had been released. However, updates on graduation will be provided as information becomes available.