Prom day redux
Mary Harvey was a little late to her senior prom - 21 years late to be exact - but she made up for it in spades.
Mary was a pregnant high school drop-out at the time of her original prom, but since then she has turned her life around - advancing in the corporate world, starting her own business, marrying her husband Noah and giving birth to three more children.
Mary credits Youth Contact, a Washington County-based non-profit organization, with igniting her transformation, and as her 40th birthday approached, she came up with the idea of throwing the high school prom that she never had and making it a fundraiser for Youth Contact.
Mary's 'prom' was held on her birthday, Saturday, April 21, at the Sherwood Robin Hood Elks Lodge, and guests were asked to bring checks or gift items for Youth Contact.
Mary, who was born and raised in Aloha, was on a downward path by her mid-teens: Estranged from her family, she had dropped out of high school and then found herself pregnant by a man who didn't want to be involved with raising the child.
'I was pretty scared,' Mary said. '(It was) one of the most defining moments of my life. I found myself pregnant, alone and absolutely terrified at the age of 18. I didn't have a family to help and thought I had very few options. I contemplated adoption, although I really didn't want to do that. I didn't know where to turn.'
Mary got connected with Youth Contact through a state assistance program, and her life changed dramatically. The organization helped her get a job and obtain her GED, and it provided a mentor.
'They had someone come to my home to teach me how to be a mom,' Mary said. 'I didn't get that from my family. They also made me realize that my situation wasn't the end of the world. They showed me the way. Most importantly, they gave me hope. I don't know what I would have done without them.'
Mary moved to Sherwood in her early 20s when her son was 4 years old and friends offered to be his daycare provider while she worked.
Mary married her husband Noah and rose through the ranks to achieve the ultimate corporate career, becoming a vice president of a Fortune 500 company. Meanwhile, her children were growing up: Her oldest son is now 21, and her other sons are 17, 11 and 9.
'Three years ago, I quit the corporate rat race,' Mary said. 'I didn't want to work 60 hours a week. I wanted to change things up. I went back to (beauty) school - I was one of the oldest students there.'
Mary became a hairdresser and now sets her own hours and volunteers at her kids' schools too.
She also had time to plan the prom of a lifetime.
'It was the prom I never had,' Mary said. 'I also wanted to make people aware of Youth Contact - they gave me hope when I didn't think I had any.'
Once Mary was back on her feet as a teen mom, she lost touch with Youth Contact but never forgot about the organization.
'I was thinking I should call them, and I did drive by, but I just never went in,' she said.
Mary actually got the idea for the prom/fundraiser a couple of years ago and wanted to hold it on the same day as her 40th birthday.
'I am in no way attempting to glorify teen pregnancy but rather send a message that your life is not over, and when you are in a position to give back, it is so important to do so,' Mary said.
'When I called (Youth Contact Director Judy Harris), she was excited about my idea for the prom/fundraiser. She said the hardest thing for them to get is toiletries and diapers because food stamps can't be used to purchase them, and they are expensive.
'When I was a teen mom, I wouldn't change my son's diapers as often as I should to make them last longer and stretch them out. So I can really relate to not having enough diapers and not being able to buy baby lotion and powder.'
The prom turned out picture perfect. From the sparking lights to the table decorations to the photo booth to the sumptuous buffet and donation table, nothing was left undone.
'What a great place to be in your life when you're turning 40,' Mary said. 'It was everything I expected, and it turned out beautifully. About 100 people came, and so many people helped me with it - the DJ and the photographer donated their time, and friends made food and helped put up the decorations.
'There was such an outpouring of love and support - it was heartwarming and emotional. I couldn't have been any happier. It was wonderful.'
Even better, the idea of the prom/fundraiser inspired some of Mary's friends to do something similar.
'Everyone is excited about my idea of holding a prom, and people said they want to hold their own prom for a fundraiser for an organization they support,' she said. 'They said it was so much fun to get all dressed up.'
A couple of days after the prom, Mary said checks and gifts were still coming in, so she didn't have a total amount for the donations but was thrilled with the generosity of her friends.