Lunch took a back seat April 23 as the founder of “Grace’s Gowns” watched middle school students emerged from impromptu dressing rooms. Giggling, the girls each looked to family members for validation this was “the dress.”The corresponding smile on student Emily Grace Jones meant the chicken strips weren’t missed at all.
This marks the third year Jones, who is a William Monroe Middle School student, has organized the drive to get donated formal gowns, jewelry and accessories in the hands of deserving girls. She and her mother, Jennifer, said it began when shopping for a dress for an eighth grade formal dance at the Central Virginia school.
Jones quickly realized the cost for an important social opportunity was out of the reach of many classmates, who also lived in the area which was struggling in the wake of an exodus of large employers. She said more than 100 gowns had been donated this year. Jones said the effort isn’t about numbers and helping only one girl a year was enough for her. (Jennifer Jones estimated 10 girls were helped last year.)
Jones said her mother is a high school teacher. Typically, school guidance departments help Grace’s Gowns discretely identify and spread the word to participating students. Jones takes donations twice a year. She said she hopes girls who participate will donate the gowns back after wearing them to keep the effort going.
Personal connections (and the William Monroe eighth grade class opting for a field trip over a formal dance) helped bring back the free gowns to Carroll County Middle School this year. Jennifer Jones’s sister, Sonya Bolen, works in the Carroll County Public School District so when the local need was realized Bolen knew who were the right people to step up. She initially broached the idea to Assistant Principal Dana Burnette, who liked the idea.
“I definitely want to continue to do this for eighth grade,” said Emily Jones. “I was surprised the first year with how many donated. It was more than 40 dresses.” Jones, is considering pursuing a career as a nurse practitioner once she graduates.
She said the formal can be an ego-positive opportunity for students and admitted she really enjoys seeing others try on the dresses, shoes and clutches. Jones said both parents work in the school system, so they have first-hand knowledge in seeing kids get what they need.
“We are so fortunate that our Sonya Bolen, Hillsville Elementary School secretary and former secretary at Woodlawn and CCMS, has such a giving heart and wants all of the girls to have the opportunity to feel special at social events,” said Burnette. “She has a big heart for the students of Carroll County.”
Burnette confirmed that a formal dance is a good personal growth opportunity for students as well as reinforcement for life skills and feeling good about themselves and dancing. She commended Bolen and the others for giving of their time and energies to provide the service.
David Broyles may be reached at 276-779-4013 or on [email protected]