A night to reflect on ‘home’: Community organizing CHS and VHS proms

CHS’s community-sponsored prom is set to take place in town square

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.

CHS’s prom under the stars is tentatively set for Friday, July 17 in the Rogersville town square. Though neither the date or location are official, representatives from the prom planning group will soon meet with members of the Rogersville Board of Mayor and Aldermen to finalize plans.

“The planning process is coming along quite nicely,” said CHS Senior Cooper Bolton, who is Senior Class President, Student Council President and a student board representative. “We are getting some details figured out, but there are still things left in the air. We are awaiting approval for the particular date we have in mind.”

A generous offer

Scott Laster, who owns Jim’s Service Center in Rogersville, started a wildfire in the community when he first brought up the idea of community-sponsored prom in a Facebook post.

Laster himself pledged $1,000 of his own money towards the event, and, within just a few days, several people from all walks of life had also pledged money, time, resources and organizational skills to help make the dream a reality.

The student council has now taken over the event planning with help from several community members.

“I wanted to see these kids have a prom and as normal of a senior year as possible,” Laster said. “Knowing that these seniors just lost half of their last year of school, I was thinking about them and how bad that would be. My senior year meant a lot to me, and I just thought how bad it must have been to walk out of school one day not knowing that you wouldn’t even be returning. I was just brainstorming one night and wondering what I could do to make this normal for them. When I found out that the school was not going to host the prom, I thought ‘let’s see if we can’t do something for them.”

Laster also reached out to his niece, Bonnie Burton, who also agreed to contribute $500. He has since secured several other monetary donations and told the Review that he will recognize all donors once the plan is finalized.

A prom at no cost

Bolton told the Review that those in charge of planning the event are “trying their best to have no cost (to the seniors) for the prom,” thanks to several generous community donations.

“Because of the community’s flood of support and contributions, a charge for admittance shouldn’t be necessary,” Bolton told the Review. “If there has to be a cost, it should minimal- nowhere near the typical cost of prom.”

As of last week, around $1,500 had already been raised towards the event.

“There have been so many people donate money, time, food, and venues,” Bolton said. “It is hard to tell the exact amount it will take to have a prom, but I don’t think that we will be short of money.”

Using the town square

Bolton told the Review that holding the prom in town square holds significant meaning to all CHS seniors.

“When I began asking around for ideas, it was almost unanimous that my peers wanted a prom outdoors and downtown,” he said. “It is important for us to have a prom downtown because it is a central part of our growing up. The town of Rogersville has given so much to us, so it is only right to celebrate our achievements with one another at the center of town.”

In order for this to take place, however, the BMA will have to approve the closure of town square.

The matter was first discussed at last month’s meeting and was brought up again at the May 12 meeting.

“They (the prom organizers) are asking for us to approve their use of town square provided that they provide the proper insurance coverage and everything else that needs to be associated with it,” Alderman Mark DeWitte told the BMA on Tuesday evening.

Because this is not a school-sponsored event, City Attorney Bill Phillips told the board that the event would “have to fall under the same rules as it would for any private organization to use public property.”

“There is a list of things that they will have to do and provide,” Phillips added. “They need to provide security and define the hours and parameters of the event. They also need a plan for, if there is an emergency, how that is going to be handled.”

The prom organizers would also need to acquire a “gathering permit” from the town in order to close off a public road.

“There’s a lot more than what you think goes into something like this,” Mayor Jim Sells added.

“It’s not just throwing up some road blocks and having at it,” said DeWitte.

Phillips also recommended that the BMA form a committee to “review what they (prom organizers) present, check it off and make sure it meets all of the requirements.”

Aldermen DeWitte and Brian Hartness agreed to form this committee alongside City Recorder Glenn Hutchens.

Theme of ‘home’

As far as the prom’s theme, Bolton told the Review that this is still being decided.

“The theme hasn’t been discussed among my peers because we are still awaiting finalized plans,” he said. “We are trying to get the large chunks of the planning process finalized first, and the details will follow. I think the theme will be centered around home and community. The Class of 2020 is basically a large family, so I believe we will want the theme of community incorporated in prom.”

He also noted that the community’s support has not gone unnoticed among the senior class.

“I can speak for the entire senior class in saying that we are eternally grateful for a supportive community,” Bolton said. “Without the outpouring of support and love, a prom would have never been able to happen. It makes things much easier when the entire community is on your side. I appreciate every person that has stepped up and offered to assist in the undertaking of an unprecedented event.”

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