The Grackle

Observations, Reflections and Miscellany from the Wacoan

Mission Prom Program Provides the Royal Treatment

Local Turns High Schoolers into Princesses

1 week ago

By Avery Ballmann

When Donna Wiley recalls her junior prom at Robinson High School in 1984, she fondly remembers selecting a pastel pink ruffled dress at JoAnn’s Bridal in West and how she struggled to sit down with the dress’s massive hoop skirt . Her date was her best friend David Ray, and the venue of this momentous event  was on McLennan Community College’s campus where Wiley now works as the senior administrative secretary for Library Services. Behind the memories of corsages and hairspray, what Wiley also remembers from her prom experience was that some of her friends couldn’t attend due to financial struggles.

“That was my thought —‘These poor girls,’” Wiley said. “I went and had such a great time and I felt so bad being at the prom that night thinking to myself, this girl is at home because she couldn’t afford it.”

The night of Wiley’s Junior prom was Mission Prom’s origin story, but Wiley wasn’t reminded  of the importance of prom until decades later in 2018 when she donated a bridesmaid dress to Caritas of Waco and saw the rack of affordable formal dresses. She was then inspired to create Mission Prom, a program to ensure that finances would not be an obstacle keeping a girl from attending prom.

Wiley’s program provides a free dress with alterations, jewelry, corsage, Mission Prom t-shirt, professional hair and makeup, professional photo session and lunch. Her sponsors include RockReady Printing & Designs, Reed’s Flowers, G2 By Georgio’s, JoAnn’s Bridal, Blinging with Nae, Photography by Britt, Modesta Barron with Mary Kay, Once Upon A Prom, McAlister’s Deli in Hewitt and Alterations by Norma. Wiley and her committee make sure to pull out all the stops for these young women, as Wiley said it’s her commitment to make them feel like princesses.

“I’ve always wanted it to feel like a slumber party,” Wiley said. “You know, [like] the movie ‘Grease’?”

Each year, Wiley adopts a school to select girls for her program. In the past she has helped Waco High School and University High School. This year, she chose China Spring High School and CenTex Christian Homeschool Coalition. Each girl was able to pick out their own dress from local stores, including G2 by Georgio’s. But not only did this shop provide a dress, it provided Lacy Gaines, owner and manager of the store. This prom season, Gaines became an eager partner with Wiley and a boost of confidence to the girls.

“She really, really was passionate about this when I met with her,” Wiley said. “She goes, ‘Oh my God, I’ve always wanted to do something like this.’ So, I think it’s perfect that her and I are working together now.”

As Gaines was tailoring each of the girls’ dresses with sewing pins between her teeth, Wiley was thinking how her dream of Mission Prom from the 1980s is now a reality and a beacon of hope for local girls.

Maggie Nicholson, a student with CenTex Christian Homeschool Coalition, appeared on Wiley’s radar when she received an email from Nicholson’s mother. Maggie  had lost her dad last year and the family could not afford a new dress and all the extras that come with prom. Wiley was so moved by the Nicholsons she decided to adopt the CenTex Homeschool Coalition as her school for next year’s Mission Prom.

“I feel a sense of pride in knowing this is my seventh year to offer these services to so many deserving young ladies in our community,” Wiley said. “I know some of their family hardships by reading the essays when each girl applies for the program, and am so grateful to be able to help them attend their prom .”

Wiley said she is very appreciative of her committee and none of this would have been possible without them: Erica Ricoy, Laura Penney, Megan Lee, Karly Bozeman, Modesta Barron, Soynia Childers and Mary Anna Childers. Mission Prom seems too good to be true with Wiley providing everything free of charge , but she truly is the closest person to the real-life Fairy Godmother from “Cinderella” that most girls dream of.

“A high school prom holds a certain rite of passage for students across the country, potentially leaving those out who can’t afford it,” Wiley said. “By providing a dress, as well as hair and makeup, we hope to lift the financial pressure and give these girls their dream night.”