When Lone Tree Council Member Marissa Harmon learned that the students at Eagle Academy High School would have their first prom in April and that some students would be facing financial pressures, she began thinking about how she could help.
“A lot of these kids … face this food insecurity and housing insecurity and they’re under a lot of financial pressure,” Harmon said, explaining she wanted to do something to help the students. “We have to surround them with love somehow.”
Harmon – who owns a hair salon in Lone Tree called roots and mane along with her sister Jessica Crimi and brother-in-law Jeremy Crimi – consulted with her sister on how they could help the school.
After some online research, Harmon came across this Clover’s closet, a non-profit organization based in Castle Rock that offers free formal wear to students. Together, Roots and Mane and Clover’s Closet have teamed up to offer Eagle students prom attire options.
“When people like Marissa come to me, it’s just a blessing and I just appreciate it so much,” said Karen Davis, who founded Clover’s Closet with her daughter Molly in 2019.
Throughout the month of March, Roots and Mane held a prom fundraiser at their salon to collect and donate clothing and accessories to Clover’s Closet, which organized the clothing into a retail environment where students could shop.
To take it a step further, the salon held a cash and gift card drive for Eagle students.
“Our Roots and Mane family and all of our customers that come here, they… have the most generous, big hearts. And so it was the perfect platform,” she said. “Really, it really touched Jess, my sister and Jeremy and I with the amount of donations and people who showed up after an appointment with gift cards and put cash in the envelope.”
Eagle Academy: Providing a different way of learning
Eagle Academy is an alternative afternoon and evening school for students between the ages of 16 and 20.
Eagle came to Lone Tree in 2017, said Jeff Broeker, the high school principal. However, it was founded in the early 1990s as a program housed at Highlands Ranch High School.
Initially, the program accepted about 120 students who were identified by a risk qualifier, Broeker said.
“In the state of Colorado, there are a number of traits that define ‘at risk’, from truancy to credit loss to learning disabilities, behavioral disorders and homelessness — all of which are different examples of what might identify children (as) at risk,” he said.
When the program moved to Lone Tree, it could expand to accommodate up to 150 students, he said.
“They come from all over the county. In fact, all nine traditional schools are represented at Eagle. And occasionally we’ll get some candidates outside of the borough,” he said, saying the high school had students from Denver Public Schools, Littleton Public Schools and Cherry Creek Schools.
Eagle is considered the school of choice and is a public school, Broeker said. It is a quarterly school, so the student population changes frequently. The only requirement for students is that they have attempted traditional high school.
“I want people to understand that the word ‘alternative’ shouldn’t evoke this perception of ‘bad’ or kids breaking rules or doing bad things.
“‘Alternative’ should mean, ‘This is a school that offers a different way of learning for children who need a different way of learning,'” Broeker said. “I think what we’re doing is that we’re providing a unique learning environment for kids who are learning differently, and she has a tremendous amount of support.”
Supporting Eagle’s first prom
One of the perceptions some students have about going to an alternative school is that it means they give up certain big school traditions, like prom, Broeker said.
“Prom is a pretty important component, and to bring something like that into a small school allows our kids to have the same experience,” he said. “Even though they know that traditional schools are probably not the best place for them to meet their academic and mental health needs, they can still have the same high school experience.”
Eagle Academy is hosting its first prom on April 29th at the new Legacy campus in Lone Tree with a theme of A Night in Paris.
The idea has been in the works since 2019, said Heather Clark, Eagle Academy’s volunteer coordinator. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the planned 2020 prom had to be cancelled.
“I made a promise, they promised me, to the group of students I worked with in 2019 that I wouldn’t change the theme for the first prom,” Clark said. “It’s going to be beautiful and it’s going to be fun.”
When Mayor Jackie Millet and Harmon arrived for a tour of Eagle Academy earlier this year, the upcoming prom was discussed, as were talks about the financial woes some students are facing.
“I think it’s safe to say that a lot of people assume Douglas County is a very prosperous county. And I think for the most part you have a significant number of families that are doing pretty well,” Broeker said. “But like any community, there will always be people who may have more problems.”
Some Eagle Academy students are working to contribute to their home, he said. Clark added that some work full-time jobs to pay for groceries and rent.
“We have many families who are struggling to make ends meet. This isn’t the cheapest place to live, Douglas County. I mean, Lone Tree is expensive enough, but so is the rest of the county. And you know, people work hard just to make ends meet,” Broeker said.
Clover’s Closet was one of three places Eagle students could visit to pick a free prom outfit, Clark said, explaining that two other local organizations were also available.
“It’s great because it gives some of our students who don’t have semi-formal attire a way to get them. And if they don’t have the money, then they have a way to get it,” she said. “I’m very grateful for that, because it allows more of our students to dress up.”
Clark said she has a mentality that anyone who does a little achieves a lot.
“Every little thing helps and definitely helps our teens who are dealing with adult stuff and adult bills and just trying to make it through high school and trying to get through and finish and have fun doing it,” she said.
Clover’s Closet: “We really want to support the community”
When a student walks into a Clover’s Closet pop-up shop to select formal wear for an upcoming prom or homecoming dance, one of Davis’ goals is to make it similar to any other shopping experience.
“It’s important for us to do this in a retail environment so that when they walk in it’s a deal. It’s no different than any other business,” Davis said. “So when they come in, they can go shopping there with their friends. They maintain these social norms that any child would have.”
The main difference from a traditional retail shopping experience is that once a student has found what they want, they don’t have to pay anything.
“It’s available to all students, so it’s all inclusive,” Davis said. “It’s not money, it’s not transactions. You just walk in, shop and it’s all free.”
Davis realized the importance of this work during last year’s Clover’s Closet prom event, when a young lady walked in with her mother.
The student chose a bubblegum pink tulle ball gown, a pair of shoes, a purse, some jewelry and makeup, Davis recalled.
“And her mother was sitting there and she was kind of nervous. She’s like, ‘So how does this work?'” Davis said, explaining that she then told the mom it was all free.
“And she looked at me and started crying,” she said. “And you know, that’s why we’re doing this.”
In addition to hosting these spring and fall pop-up stores, Clover’s Closet is also involved in the community with other organizations such as Douglas County Human Services, local food banks and churches.
“There’s been a lot of need out there, especially in the last few years,” she said. “We’re trying to make sure we have what the community needs available.”
“We really want to support the community”
“Everything makes a big difference”
As a result of the donations the Roots and Mane salon received from the community, they had four full truckloads of men’s and women’s prom wear going to Clover’s Closet, Harmon said.
The opening weekend of the Clover’s Closet pop-up shop featured 117 formal items including dresses and menswear, as well as shoes, accessories, make-up and handbags.
In total, the salon raised more than $1,500 in cash and gift cards given directly to Eagle Academy, which Harmon said she left in a gift basket at the school.
The salon also gave prom accessories – including hairspray, combs and bobby pins – for the students to use on the big day. The salon will also pay for a prom photo booth for students to use.
Harmon said the Eagle students were so excited to share with her the clothes they received from Clover’s Closet.
“I want each of these students to know that we are there for them and we see them and we support them. And we’re so proud of them for making the decision to keep getting up every day (and) doing what you need to do to better yourself and your family,” Harmon said.
“Lone Tree, we really just want to focus on building our community around us,” she said. “Because that’s what we all rely on.”
Clark of Eagle Academy noted how much community support can have an impact on students.
“Every little thing counts. Every little thing, every donation – whether money, clothing, food, gift cards, everything is important. And all of that makes a big difference,” Clark said.
This sense of collaboration and community is also something that Harmon highlights.
“You never know what someone is going through. So how can we all stick together and support one another, whether it’s our schools, your neighbors, or any challenges our city is facing?” Harmon said. “I think we all work better when we have partners and a community, and that’s why I’m excited to be a part of that.”
Eagle Academy High School,
roots and mane