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Marissa: Making dreams come true
Free prom dresses fly off racks in new downtown Ripon location
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Mayor Dean Uecker, Melinda Shaw with her volunteer team from Marissas Closet and chamber of commerce staffer Vicky Eddy led grand opening ceremonies Saturday morning at the non-profits new location at 102 West Main Street in Ripon. - photo by GLENN KAHL

The Saturday morning ribbon cutting of Marissa’s Closet’s new home at 102 West Main Street in downtown Ripon was the culmination of months of work by an army of volunteers supporting Melinda Shaw’s drive to carry on the dream of her late daughter Marissa.

The excitement experienced by a teenage girl going to her first junior-senior prom is filled with a thrill like none other when it comes to finding the perfect gown for that special evening.  That was the case for Averell Aungst, who was first in line with her mother Ada, long before the staff opened the door for a stream of some 300 teens throughout the day.

Averell is a student at Turlock High School who was told about Marissa’s available prom gowns by a friend who shopped the store when it was located in the former Ripon Drug Store some two blocks down Main Street.  Marissa’s was stocked with some 2,000 dresses, about half of them still with the price tags for as much as $1,400.

Her mother said she hoped her daughter would look for a blue gown that would accentuate her blue eyes.

Since they were first in line at the door, they were asked to stand in the front row of the ribbon cutting ceremony that saw Ripon Mayor Dean Uecker do the honor of snipping the blue ribbon with a crowd of well-wishers.  As the ribbon fell from the scissors he raised both arms up in the air and cheered before the guests.

The teen said she had been asked to the prom only the day before by junior Branden Gover.  Asked what her college plans might be at this juncture, she replied that she hopes to attend Point Loma in San Diego wanting to become a pediatrician.  Her date for the night is looking toward a career in law enforcement following in his dad’s footsteps.

Her VIP status continued as volunteers in the store ushered her quickly into a dressing room with her first choice – a beautiful blue, floor-length gown.  Averell would try on some five or six before she finally decided on one of the first ones that caught her eye.  Yes, it was blue with tiny diamond-like sequins on the bodice.

Other teens stood in dressing room lines with their mothers each having the maximum of three gowns to model and check out in the mirror.  There was definite electricity in the store with the excitement of the teens. There were 75 gowns that went out the door on Saturday.  The shop will be open again on Wednesday from 4 until 6 p.m.

Cameron Diaz brought gold and teal dresses into the store and donated them to be included on the racks lining the walls and in the center of the floor area for other teens.  Diaz then searched through the many choices for a new gown for her mid-April prom at Ceres High.

Cameron said she hopes to go to U.C. Santa Cruz where she plans to major in Psychology that will take her into the career of her choice in someday being a criminal lawyer. 

Her philosophy for school and for life: “Play hard or go home; make goals for yourself or you are not going to get anywhere!”

In addition to the 75 gowns selected Saturday before the shop’s 4 p.m. closing, there were 25 dresses donated to the cause.  Monetary donations totaled just over $100 to the non-profit.

Marissa’s Closet was involved in a Special Needs Prom Saturday evening at Del Rio Country Club in Modesto.  Melinda Shaw said they had a last minute emergency call from one girl going to the Saturday night dance who said her gown had a broken zipper.  No problem, Marissa’s staffers responded and found a perfect replacement they got to her in plenty of time before the dance.

Shaw is equally excited about the counseling center completion at the rear of the store only weeks away.  Marissa’s is planning to host medical and psychological professionals to service the center for students who are suffering from depression, anxiety and have cutting tendencies.  The Ripon woman said she sees a need similar to that of her daughter Marissa hoping to go the extra mile for other teens in the community.

Shaw has proudly carried on the prom dress program her daughter launched from their home before her untimely death while a student at Ripon High School.  She has gone out of her way to find boyfriends’ tuxedos and flowers in addition to the gowns – even providing prom bids.