Alternative prom allows area students to enjoy dance amid COVID-19

EDWARDSBURG — In early March, Brandywine High School graduate Ashlyn Farmer had picked out the perfect prom dress, a pink and purple number embroidered with cascading roses.

A week later, schools around the state of Michigan announced they would be closing due to COVID-19 precautions.

“I was definitely so sad,” she said. “For the longest time, I wouldn’t even think about it. I wouldn’t talk about it. I was so upset. I feel better now because a lot of time has passed, but I was really upset at the time.”

When it became clear that the shutdown would continue to last throughout the end of the school year, Farmer thought she would not be able to attend a prom her senior year. However, this past weekend, she was able to pull the dress out of her closet, though the prom she attended looked different than she planned.

Saturday, an alternative outdoor prom was hosted at the Edwardsburg Sports Complex. The outdoor dance, which was open to students across Michiana, saw more than 50 attendants despite rainy weather.

According to the event’s organizers, the outdoor event was meant to provide area students with a prom experience and memories that they could carry with them, despite COVID-19’s impact on their year.

“My daughter missed prom this year,” said Mica Yonker, the event’s organizer and owner of Oh My LLC in downtown Niles. “My daughter wanted to have prom in the backyard, but I thought, ‘why don’t we see if we can find something better and open it up a little bit and include more kids.”

As the owner of a dress shop, Yonker said she has seen many teens come into her storefront, disappointed as they returned their prom dresses. She said it was hard to watch area students miss out on what she believes is an important school event, which is when she got the idea to host the prom.

“My whole idea for doing this was helping the kids get out of the house, out of quarantine and do it safely, and see some friends they may not have gotten to see otherwise,” she said.

Many of the teens who attended Saturday’s event said they enjoyed themselves and were excited to have a prom still to attend after COVID-19 canceled many of their high school traditions.

“I think this is actually really cool,” Farmer said. “Think it is really cool that they are doing this for us.”

“This is different, but it’s fun,” added Chloe Westfall, a junior at Edwardsburg High School.

Yonker said she hoped that every student who attended Saturday’s event left feeling like they had participated in an actual prom.

“A lot of kids didn’t realize that when they left school [in March] that those would be some of the last memories they would be making with their friends,” she said. “We tried to offer them a chance to get in a few more memories before everybody goes off to college.”

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