by HALEI LAMB
Area students who were heading to this year’s prom, especially seniors, will be pleased to hear their planning will not have been in vain. One local woman, Brandi Canady-Taylor, has been working behind the scenes over the last few weeks to ensure students get their momentous occasion after all.
The worry over prom plans began when Emanuel County Schools announced April 1 that the events for Swainsboro High and Emanuel County Institute were canceled following Governor Brian Kemp closing all schools the previous Thursday, March 27, and health officials barring group gatherings of 10 or more. Canady-Taylor, owner of Sparkle Baby Rental & Consignment in Twin City, knew right away she wouldn’t let this community service opportunity go to waste, nor would she let a pandemic take away one of life’s most precious milestones. Not only did she immediately set out planning something for the juniors and seniors who would’ve attended their respective school’s prom, but she also began working up a replacement plan for what would’ve been the traditional eighth grade dance for the younger students as well.
She says the idea came to her once the phone started ringing after the proms were officially canceled. Sparkle Baby had rented numerous dresses for proms, the eighth grade dances, and end-of-the-year pageants. Once the events were called off, her phone line never stopped. Moms and girls alike expressed their devastation as they called to ask about their rentals.
“I just thought, ‘We have to do something for these kids.’ A lot of the people who called me were worried early on about the plans for prom and graduation before the announcement was even made, so I started talking to my dad, James Canady, who is a county commissioner, about what we could possibly do,” Canady-Taylor said. “The business we’re in, we like to do community service. We’ve always tried to give back, and I’ve always taught my kids how important it is to serve others. With us being in the formal wear business and seeing the community getting emotional, [the decision to organize a countywide prom] was a no-brainer.”
Although there remain a few kinks to work out, the heavy lifting part of the planning is pretty well complete at this point. Canady-Taylor says there will be a countywide prom for the juniors and seniors as well as an eighth grade dance for all three schools: SHS, ECI, and David Emanuel Academy. The date and location have yet to be determined, though.
“We don’t want them to be together because of the age difference, so we’re looking at doing it two ways. Either we’ll have two different events at different locations on the same night, or we’ll use the same location on, say, a Friday night for the prom and using that same location again on maybe Saturday night for the dance.”
The main organizer has enlisted the help of the community, and the response, she says, has been phenomenal from both students and volunteers. Canady-Taylor first approached Ken Warnock, the CEO of the local chamber, to inquire about funds that might be left unutilized due to the Pine Tree Festival’s cancellation. Warnock told her those funds are being put into an account for small businesses in town until stimulus money rolls in, but he felt confident the chamber could assist in some way whenever a date is finalized. Canady-Taylor has also received support from Hannah Greenway, a florist in Twin City, and The George’s Flower Shop, both of whom have given the nod to help with décor, but the support didn’t stop there.
“I had been holding out on announcing that we were planning something until I found out what the governor was going to do. Before the school system even announced there wouldn’t be a prom, as soon as the governor called off school for the remainder of the year on April 27, I felt like prom would eventually be canceled, too.” As soon as news broke that the proms had, in fact, been canceled, she proceeded to spread the good news on Facebook. She explained everything in a status on April 1 and within two hours, the post was receiving numerous interactions, including more than 80 shares. “My phone just went crazy! Tons of parents and just everyday community members reached out and said they’d be willing to help with food, chaperoning, whatever we need. I even had kids and parents from nearby communities responding, saying it was a wonderful idea and they were going to see if their counties would let them do something similar. I’ve since seen that Johnson County and others around us are trying to move forward and plan something for their kids, too.”
Some of the locals who have volunteered to help are, like Canady-Taylor, no stranger to philanthropy. Debra Bates Beasley, who helped accommodate and serve the evacuees from Hurricane Matthew back in 2017, has enlisted as well as Matt and Catina Braswell, among numerous others. Canady-Taylor is also looking to her two daughters, Madison and Morgan, along with Sparkle Baby employee and ECI senior Ally Sasser, to help. Some of the area volunteer firefighters and local policemen have signed up to help, as have several teachers. If you want to join the cause, Canady-Taylor can be reached at 912-536-1168 or on Facebook messenger. Madison is also a point of contact; she may be reached at 478-299-4440. Commissioner Canady can also be of assistance.
A few important details have to be finalized and the governor’s restrictions have to be lifted before the plans can be put into action. Otherwise, Canady-Taylor says the events are pretty well planned, so much so that once it is safe to proceed, the prom and eighth grade dance can be put together completely within a 2- to 3-week timeframe.
“We’ve got to nail down a date. Right now, we’re looking at hopefully the end of June or first of July because we want to do it before the seniors leave for college or head off to the military,” she explained. “We’ve also got to figure out a location. When I talked to my dad, he was all for the idea and was pretty sure the commission would back us. He suggested maybe using the new parking lot for the courthouse where Schwabe Motor Company used to be. We also talked about around the park, The Boneyard, the fairgrounds, or the National Guard Armory. We’ve got several ideas in the works, just depending on how the weather is and things like that. You’ve always got to take in mind the attire for the girls’ dresses and stuff, but I don’t think we’re going to have a problem finding a place because everybody in the community I’ve spoken with has been more than willing to help.”
Another piece of the puzzle that is missing as of today is the entertainment portion of the event. Canady-Taylor asked Warnock about the possibility of the chamber sponsoring this particular part of the prom and dance. She has also been in touch with Jay Daniels, who once worked with Outback Entertainment to bring bands to the area and still has connections in the industry. The brains of the operation stayed tight-lipped regarding whether there would be a live band or a deejay out of precaution in case logistics don’t work out, but Canady-Taylor hasn’t overlooked that particular part of the planning.
What she does know at this point is there will be both a walk and a dance for the prom. The goal is for this experience to be exactly like the school-sanctioned prom students would have went to—perhaps even better, given the fact that all three schools will be together at once.
Also, the event will be absolutely free. “We’re not going to charge these kids. With the financial times we’re in right now and the uncertainty of how long a lot of these parents are going to be out of work, we want this to be something the kids look forward to and the parents don’t have to worry about how they’re going to pay for it. We’re going to finance all of it with volunteers. We don’t want the kids to have to worry about paying for anything.”
She even has a plan for students who might want to attend but can’t afford attire. Sparkle Baby has, for the last three years, donated dresses, shoes, earrings, and photographed prom-goers. Canady-Taylor’s shop also has the ability to dress young men, too.
When asked why this project is so special to her, Canady-Taylor replied, “The support from the community has just been tremendous… Everybody has the same idea that I do—they just want to see each kid have a good experience and they want the seniors to have something to look back on that’s positive. We all want to see something good come out of all we’re going through right now. We all want these kids to know that people are thinking about them and haven’t forgotten about them and that we do care about them. These kids were born during 9/11, and now, here we are in the coronavirus pandemic. We just want to give them something positive, let them know they are strong, and help them get through this.”
She also commented about her excitement. “I am so ready! We love giving back to the community, and I can’t wait to see the expressions on these kids’ faces when we get to do this for them. I’m also excited for the parents; they’ve all been so grateful. It’s all about the kids and the community, giving them something to look forward to, given the hard times we’re dealing with, but this, too, shall pass and the Lord will see us through. These seniors had no closure, so this will give them an opportunity to say their last goodbyes and have kind of that ‘last hoorah’ with their friends. They deserve that. They’ve already had so much taken away from them. I’m just glad to be able to do something like this for them as the hands and feet of the Lord. He’s the one who provides everything.”