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Sunday, June 19, 2016

‘It’s the highlight of their school year’

New Vision Youth celebrate underclassman prom


Community contributor

KINGSPORT — Who says a prom has to be during the school year?
Members of Kingsport’s New Vision Youth say, “Not so fast.” Their recent prom was a rousing success, even though school has already let out for the summer!

For 15 years now, the New Vision Youth headed by Johnnie Mae Swagerty, has been giving the youth of Kingsport the same kind of prom that upper classmen get at area high schools, except this one is summer-friendly.
Swagerty and her New Vision Youth parents and chaperones hold two separate proms on the same day, one for children ages 4 through 12, and another one for older students, ages 13 through 17.

“Many of the kids don’t get to go to proms,” Swagerty said. “They don’t get to experience the feeling of going to prom, dressing up and showing off to their friends. Even in their casual clothes, they can come here and have a good time, eat some good food, dance to the music and above all, have fun.
“For many of them, it’s the highlight of their school year.”

The New Vision Youth prom had its humble beginnings in 2001 in the cafeteria of the Head Start facility in the old V.O. Dobbins Community Center, the old Douglass High School. As the event caught on, the next one was held in the old Boys and Girls Club in the former Riverview Apartments on Booker Street. From there, it moved to the banquet room at the Elks Lodge and the old 229 Club on Lincoln Street (now Martin Luther King Drive). Then for several years it moved back and forth between the Kingsport Renaissance Center and the Civic Auditorium.

This year, it was held in a formally decorated Douglass Community Room in the V.O. Dobbins Sr. Complex.

“The spirit of the prom has followed us wherever we’d held it,” Swagerty said. “We do it from the heart, and the graduates who have attended over the years still talk about how much fun they had.”

The highlight of each and every prom is the crowning of the royalty. In the smaller children category, 12-year-old Isiah Dukes, a sixth-grader at John Sevier Middle School, was chosen prince of the prom. Seven-year-old Anna Fields, a second-grader at Central Heights Elementary, was selected princess.

Among the older students, 14-year-old Ayona Barlow, a ninth-grader at Dobyns-Bennett, was crowned queen of the 2016 New Vision Youth Prom. The honor of king of the prom went to 14-yearold Jaquan Thomas, also a ninth-grader at D-B.

There were other winners, too. Kids who found a card under their chairs were given gift cards to a local restaurant. ... Others were picked as winners in the dance competitions. Everyone was judged on how much fun they were having, how courteous they were to their friends, and how mannerly they interacted with others. That’s a strict requirement with Swagerty.

“This year, we had 25 kids in the younger category and 12 among the older children, and they were well-behaved,” said Swagerty. “As a group, we insist on that. They are taught that to be in the New Vision Youth group, they have to respect each other and treat their friends the way they would want to be treated. Respect is something they can take with them the rest of their lives.”

As the New Vision Youth prom seemingly gets bigger every year, Swagerty and the parents who support the program welcome new participants.

“Whether it’s 40 kids, a dozen, even one or two kids ... in this program, we will always have a prom for them.”