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story.lead_photo.caption MEGAN DAVIS/MCDONALD COUNTY PRESS Susan Fickle stands amid sharp tuxes and glittering gowns in the high school counselor's office turned evening wear boutique.

Susan Fickle was knee-deep in handing out tuxes and fitting a girl in a prom dress when she got the call she was going to be honored for her volunteer work.

Fickle plays the role of a fairy godmother, making sure teens who can't afford all the frill and fuss of prom can find the perfect attire and enjoy a fun night out on the town.

But if you ask Fickle, the founder of Making Mustang Memories, about the award, she doesn't believe she's worthy. Instead, she'll tell you that helping teens create special memories is simply a mission of hers. Over the last four years, she's helped 200 girls and 100 boys. She wants all to have an equal chance.

"I want every student to have that (prom) memory as one of their best memories of high school and, of course, how good they looked!"

Fickle works hard all year long to secure enough fancy dresses and accessories, as well as contacts, funding and establishing networks to help. She receives a great deal of help from friends, family and McDonald County neighbors to help teens look their best for prom or military balls.

Of course, springtime means crunch time. Fickle labors to make sure each teen has the support that he or she needs, whether that be attire, accessories, a hair and make-up session, and funds for dinner.

Thanks to her dedication and commitment, Fickle will receive the Sarah Jane Snow Memorial award from the "Friends" of the McDonald and Newton Counties Department of Social Services. Each year, the organization honors an outstanding county citizen who gives endless hours to helping youth. Friends director Sandy Hughes said Fickle is unstoppable.

"There are some people who choose to overlook opportunities to help others. Susan is not one of them," Hughes said.

"She saw a need and, without giving it a second thought, stepped into the role of being a problem solver. A high school prom is a big occasion in a teen's life. It's almost a rite of passage. Thank you to Susan for loving McDonald County's teens."

So why work this hard?

"One girl told me, 'Thank you for making me feel beautiful and confident in the company of my peers,'" Fickle said. One boy thanked her for helping him look like a "sharp dressed man."

"That is why I work so hard to make it happen. The smiles it brings to these kids' faces when they try on a dress or tux for the first time in their lives, or having their hair or makeup done in a style they have only seen in magazines or online, make it more rewarding to me than them," Fickle said.

"There hasn't been a year that I can't still think about some of them and know that was their moment to shine."

From the ground up

Fickle launched the program after realizing the costs of prom might prevent some teens from having a special night.

Her son rented a tux for prom, while his girlfriend bought a dress with matching shoes and jewelry and had her hair styled at the salon. A nice dinner followed.

"I just got to thinking about all the cost and thought, 'I'm sure a lot of kids don't go because they're not able to afford all that,'" she said.

Other help was available at the time but not on a large scale. So Fickle spoke with Mrs. Kester, who oversaw the Bright Futures branch in McDonald County. "It was then and there that I was sure I didn't want another student to miss these special events because of cost."

Fickle created a form for each high school teacher to give to each student. The form is then turned in to the counselor's office discreetly, listing the needs of that particular student.

At the outset, Fickle began her work when the forms were turned in. "Once those started being turned in, I began reaching out by phone calls, texts and Facebook that we needed dresses, shoes, jewelry and funds donated. And just like always, when our county kids are in need, word spread fairly quickly and donations started coming in. It caught on and has gotten bigger and bigger every year since."

Since that time, Fickle has labored to secure enough funds, goods, dresses, agreements with flower and tux shops and salons. She scours second-hand shops, looks for big end-of-the-season sales at retail shops and relies heavily on donations. She networks with families whose daughters may have a prom dress and choose to donate it.

Other donors call her each spring to see what needs to be funded. Each teen helped is treated to the perfect attire. Girls may have their hair and make-up done and can choose from a variety of matching shoes, jewelry, handbags and more.

Fickle used to haul all the dresses from Pineville to the school. This year, however, a small room off the counselor's office has been dedicated to storage. Fickle sets up the room like a store, allowing the girls to shop for a dress and shoes.

Gift cards enable the couple to dine at a nice restaurant before the prom.

The labor of love is all worth it when Fickle sees the smiles and how proud the teens are.

One girl, in particular, had told her friends that she wasn't going to go to prom. She didn't think she could find a prom dress that would fit and felt uncomfortable about the idea of attending the special event.

Her friends turned her name into the counselor's office and Fickle spoke with her. She finally told the teen, "You need this memory."

Fickle selected two dresses that she thought would fit the bill. The girl tried on one dress but then wouldn't come out of the bathroom. "She was withdrawn and nervous," Fickle said.

She wouldn't leave the bathroom, so Fickle finally persuaded her to let her come in to see how the dress fit.

She looked great. From there, she selected accessories, and the ball was rolling.

On the night of prom, the girl texted Fickle a photo of herself, laughing and dancing at the dance.

"It was a complete and total transformation," Fickle said. "It still gives me goosebumps and brings tears to my eyes."

And then there are last-minute emergencies that happen. One girl ready for the prom experienced a broken zipper. They switched dresses -- and this was at 4:30 p.m. before prom. When that zipper broke, they had to perform last-minute stitching to save the day, Fickle said, laughing.

After special events, Fickle reviews all her photos, reminiscing how happy the teens look and how confident they are to enjoy a memorable evening.

"It's so gratifying," Fickle said. "That's pretty much the reason I do it."

To find out more or to donate to Making Mustang Memories, contact the McDonald County High School counselor's office.

General News on 05/17/2018

Print Headline: 'Fairy Godmother' Heads Up Effort To Help Teens

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