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Marissa still making a difference

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Marissa still making a difference

Ripon High School senior Marissa McLeod lives on in her portrait knowing, at the time, she was making a difference for girls, who without her help in getting a prom dress, would not have been able ...

HIME ROMERO/The Bulletin


POSTED February 6, 2010 3:22 a.m.
RIPON - Making a difference is what Marissa McLeod’s  signature in life – her endless spirit –  was all about in  her yesterdays and continuing through  today and into many tomorrows in her deep concern for others.

The burning desire to help others less fortunate was not quenched out by her death because her torch was picked up by her mother who is running her daughter’s race to see that her plans even multiply in reaching their fruition.  Not only is her mom helping others, but she says it is the best and most positive way to continue to feel close to her late daughter.

Marissa organized a clothes closet of prom dresses last year for girls who could not otherwise realize their dreams of going to their junior and senior high school dances. It was her first effort in giving back to the community with 245 gowns.  At the time of her unfathomable suicide Dec. 1, she had more than 100 dresses stored at her Robert Avenue home.

She long battled with a dark side of her existence that was seen in some of the poetry she wrote albeit being passionate about others’ needs and feelings, and in her desire to make a difference in the world.    

The Ripon High School senior was at the top of her class with a constant 4.3 grade point average that brought comments from teachers that she could easily teach the class in their absence.  She had been accepted at Stanford University for the upcoming fall semester in what she planned to be a double major in psychiatry and in law – already having taken two summer classes there.  

Marissa’s mother, Melinda Shaw, said that her daughter was “an amazing person with a big heart” who always wanted to be there for others.  “We will carry on her spirit,” she said.  “Our first (clothes closet) goal is to do San Joaquin County this spring and then we move to Stanislaus County,” she said. The dresses will be available to all students from area schools.

Still finding it challenging to keep her emotions in check, Shaw said her wish is to open a second clothes closet location in the fall west of Tracy would include Pleasanton where she attended Amador High School.  Teachers as far north as Galt have also been alerted to the movement.

Still grieving,  her mother said it has been difficult for her to get out of bed in the mornings and move forward, but it is all for her daughter’s memory – the closest  thing next to an actual hug.  She has been on a leave of absence from her job since her daughter’s death two months ago.  It was only a month before that that another Ripon High senior took his own life.

Marissa’s Clothes Closet, scholarship honors Marissa’s spirit
Carrying Marissa’s spirit forward also involves a new scholarship program in her name along with the continuing of the “Marissa’s Clothes Closet” to make sure every girl gets a chance to attend their special prom – to be a princess for an evening.

There are more than 125 prom dresses in the Shaw’s modest Ripon home with plans to collect even more for this year’s proms – the goal is some 700.   Marissa’s mom, family members and friends will man a booth at the upcoming Ripon Almond Blossom Festival February 26, 27 and 28 at Mistlin Sports Park to collect more prom dresses and to talk with interested girls.

The vacant Ripon Drug Store building on Ripon’s Main Street will be used for the second and third weekends in mid-March to collect dresses and to serve as a distribution center to make dreams a reality – alterations are also going to be offered to interested students.   Marissa’s Closet is being further expanded to serve communities from Pleasanton through all of Stanislaus County with a 501 (c3) non-profit status expected to be in place soon.

The family hopes to give as many as three scholarships annually in Marissa’s memory to graduating high school seniors for college and for trade schools as well.  A first big fund raiser in the form of a community semi-formal dance is being planned at the Ripon Community Center for the end of April.  The theme will feature their daughter’s favorite red roses along with black and white accents.

Marissa’s movement to “make a difference” has drawn some 20 volunteers in addition to family members and many of the wives of correctional officers from Duel Vocational Institute in Tracy.

Letters are going out to some 30 high schools to make students and staff members aware of the prom dress availability in Ripon.  The Bonded Cleaners in Modesto has agreed to dry clean all the donated formal gowns the family’s effort receives.    The satellite closet chapter is being set up in the Pleasanton Community by McKenzie Huff.

In Modesto an 11-year-old cousin, Alexis Garcia, is lobbying for “nearly new” formal prom gowns in her school circle at University Charter School located on Coffee Road near Standiford Avenue. She has made it part of a community service assignment at her school.  She, too, has set the bar extremely high for the numbers she is hoping to bring into the closet.

Marissa hopes to secure the first 245 dresses
Volunteers are soon going to be walking fliers to the business communities in Ripon, Manteca and Modesto and they will also be sending out emails to potential supporters.  It was Marissa who first sent out her own emails in seeking the 245 dresses she was able to draw from the community last year at the kickoff to her program.

Garcia, a sixth grader at the charter school, said, “It is important to fulfill my cousin’s dream; because, if we didn’t do this, other girls wouldn’t be able to fulfill their dreams.”  While she is not yet in high school, she is finding prom dresses older sisters have stashed away in their closets.

Marissa’s mother said there are also plans to provide limited limo services to graduates going to the proms who would otherwise have their own challenges with transportation.

The Ripon High senior had been the organizing president of her school’s Girls’ League that pushed students to be their best and to become involved in community service – an area where Marissa felt the school was lacking.

Always one who defied the rules, her mother noted, she was the smart one who always stepped outside the box to go the extra mile.  She had two sets of friends – her cheer leaders and members of her dance groups – and the excelling fellow students at her elementary and high school.  Those in cheer didn’t actually know just how wise and how knowledgeable she was about life. She was so spirited and befriended everyone at any time, her mother added.

She told of one time when her daughter had an issue with the high school and wanted her mother to be her advocate with the school board.  Marissa had researched her legal rights on the internet and discovered case law that backed up her position with definite case precedents to support her concerns.  

Her mom said she decided it would be best not to go before the board with that particular issue, a decision her daughter found difficult to accept.   She knew she was right and she knew how to prove her stand, she added.

“My goal as an 18-year-old’s mom was to tell her she could do whatever – anything she could dream up,” she said.  And dream she did, without limits, for what was good and what was right.  And the evidence of the impact she had on those she touched can be seen on blogs posted on www. MarissaMcLeod.com.

“She held herself to the highest standards.  She was her own worst judge,” her mother noted.  “Teachers always told me she was too smart for her own good.”  In elementary school she logged some 1,000 points in extracurricular, fun reading.  When we would go shopping Marissa always had to take her books along.

She added that Marissa demonstrated her independent spirit by going to past proms by herself.  “You should be proud of me,” she told her mother, “in that I’m independent and don’t need someone to nullify that.”

That first day in kindergarten saw her mother crying at the door, but Marissa had it all together telling her mom that it was ok she could go home.  “She was always competitive – she always had to be the best,” she said.
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