‘God gave me this, and I ran with it’

Published 9:11 am Friday, February 24, 2017

Prom season is fast approaching and for many high school girls that means the search is on for that perfect dress.

Unfortunately for too many, the high expectations come with a high price tag that places a night of fancy dresses and dancing just out of reach.

One Alexander Junior High teacher is working to make sure cost is never a reason to skip such a special night.

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“It broke my heart that some guys and girls said they couldn’t afford to go to prom,” Laura Ann Walker said. “We’ve set the bar so high, but prom doesn’t have to be expensive. For some people, that’s where they’re going to feel like a queen or princess for the night.”

As God laid the desire to help these students on her heart, she became aware of an ingenious solution.

“I have students that never do anything with their prom dresses, and they just sit in the back of the closet,” she said.

Walker began collecting the dresses from the second group to allow the first group to borrow.

“God has a sense of humor; I’m a blue jean, T-shirt girl,” she said. “God gave me this, and I ran with it.”

Walker currently has about 140 dresses in assorted colors, lengths, sizes and styles. You want frilly? She has those. Shiny sequins? She’s got those, too.

Not only does she help those needing dresses for prom, but for formals or programs such as Distinguished Young Women.

Since Walker’s current inventory and her space available seem to be at odds, she has photographs of each of the dresses in a catalogue, even if they are not physically displayed. This allows the girls to flip through the pages to find their perfect dress.

“There’s no doubt that God has a hand in it because I’ve not had a student not find a dress,” she said. “I’ve seen them come in stressed, even the week before, and they always leave smiling and relieved.”

As much as the project has grown since Walker began, she has an even larger vision for the future. She hopes to one day have a non-profit organization and name it Matthew’s Closet, a name inspired by Matthew 25: “When I was naked, you clothed me.”

She wants to expand her collections to anything and everything that a student may need for extracurriculars, such as musical instruments or golf clubs.

“Maybe someone wants to be in band, but they can’t afford a clarinet,” she said. “There’s so many negative things, so this is just one more positive thing for our students.”

Walker is currently working with a business in Brookhaven to convert the second floor into an area where people can easily access and peruse the dresses with a dressing room and mirrors.

She’s looking for volunteers to help make that happen. If someone needs community service hours or if youth groups are searching for a project, they could use help prepping the space, she said.

And of course, Walker is always accepting dress donations.

“All I ask for is if it’s something they would not wear or would not let their daughter wear not to donate it,” she said. But everything else is free game, including old bridesmaid dresses. She also invites anyone that may have interest in fashion design to explore the dresses and alter them.

Some of the dresses could use the creative touch of a generous, talented seamstress.

“A lot of bridesmaids dresses are beautiful but need a little more pizazz to make a prom dress,” she said.

But dresses aren’t the only thing a girl needs for a prom.

Walker hopes to find students in cosmetology classes who’d like to donate their time the night of prom to do hair and makeup. She’ll match them up with girls who would be overjoyed to have those services made available.

If any individual wants to donate dresses or services, they’re urged to leave a message for Walker at Alexander Junior High at 601-833-7549.

Girls who need a dress for a prom or formal should speak to the counselor at their school. All area high school counselors will have contact information for Walker. Girls can also talk to area youth pastors who have her contact information as well.