The gymnasium at Denham Springs High School was jumpin’ and jivin’ to the sounds of two dozen giants in the music industry who died too soon because of poor decisions, including Prince, David Bowie and George Michael, all of whom died last year.
Titled “Unfinished Business,” the theme for the 19th Annual Prom Fashion Show was chosen because of the many famous people who died in 2016, including Carrie Fisher of “Star Wars” fame, one of the many remembered during the entertaining production.
The performers were all members of JADD, or Jackets Against Destructive Decisions, and one of its sponsors, teacher Shannon Donze, explained how the organization chooses the theme each year.
“We look at what’s going on at the time,” she said. “Like in 2014, we did a Beatles-themed show because it was the 50th anniversary of their appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show.”
The four celebrities who died last year were lost because of destructive decisions, which is the reason the organization was formed nearly 30 years ago.
Prince’s death was attributed to an opiod overdose, David Bowie died of liver cancer, reportedly the result of a lifetime of chain smoking, and George Michael is believed to have died of congestive heart failure caused by years of drug abuse.
The JADD Prom Fashion Show featured students actually singing the songs of some of the celebrities featured in the program, dancing to the tunes of others and pantomiming the songs of many.
The “Unfinished Business” troupe put on two entertaining shows last week, Monday and Tuesday evenings, but the underlying message was a solemn one – to raise awareness of the consequences that result from bad decisions.
SADD, or Students Against Destructive Decisions, to which the JADD club belongs, tries to put a stop to bullying, no seatbelt usage, drug usage, teen unsafe driving, texting and driving, underage alcohol use, human trafficking and smoking and tobacco use, according to Dylan Ivy, director of the Livingston Parish SADD organization and SADD’s Louisiana state coordinator.
In Livingston Parish so far this year, there have been 14 alcohol-related crashes resulting injuries or death, and statewide, over 500 teen drivers between the ages of 15 and 17 have been injured in crashes this year, according to figures provided by Louisiana Crash Data Reports.
“When I became involved, I thought that it was a valuable club and that kids needed to learn some of those lessons and not the hard way,” said teacher and JADD sponsor Elise LeBlanc.
“About 10 years ago, we lost three students in one crash…It was horrible,” she said, adding the deaths were the result of one of those destructive decisions, drinking and driving. About six boys had been in a nightclub in Livingston Parish, got thrown out and a scuffle ensued.
“They jetted off and they were driving along Highway 16 with their headlights off and hit one of those curves and lost control,” LeBlanc said. “It was tragic for three of them and life-changing for the others.”
In the program for the “Unfinished Business” Prom Fashion Show, there is a brief story about one Denham Springs High School (DSHS) student who lost her life due to a destructive decision by another driver.
“Tara Rice should have graduated with the DSHS class of 1999, began a career and maybe even started a family,” the program reads. “She didn’t get to do any of those things because she and her mother were killed by a drunk driver.”
The Rice family has suffered through the deaths of six family members in three alcohol-related crashes, according to the program. These tragic crashes motivated the family to improve the community by promoting awareness.
The organization was founded about 30 years ago as Just Say No and sometime in the late 1990s, the name was changed to JADD and it became affiliated with SADD, Students Against Destructive Decisions.
“SADD is a national organization that empowers young people to successfully confront the risks and pressures that challenge them in their daily lives,” Ivy said. “By becoming a SADD chapter, JADD was eligible for recognition at the national level.”
He said the Denham Springs High School chapter has been extraordinarily successful. “It’s important to note that Denham Springs High’s JADD has won every award at the national level of SADD, including chapter of the year three times, advisor of the year twice, student of the year four times and numerous awards for activity of the year.”
“JADD empowers teens by teaching them leadership development skills and uses teens to promote the drug-free and safety mission,” Ivy said. “The club is student-led. The successful approach the teachers use is a peer-to-peer model by using teens to make their peers aware of risky and destructive behaviors.”
The Prom Fashion Show is the club’s biggest event each year, having been morphed from a traditional fashion show to a prom variety show, in large part because of Rice’s tragic – and untimely – death.
“The Rice family contacted DSHS and wanted to promote a safe prom night for teens,” Ivy said. “The family’s goal was to spread a positive message for teens not to consume alcohol or drive under the influence.”
The foundation and purpose of SADD – and LeBlanc – is what got Donze involved in the organization at DSHS as a sponsor. Her niece, Courley Carraway, who is now a teacher and a co-sponsor of JADD, was in the Prom Fashion Show the first time Donze went to one.
“I went to see her in her show, fell in love with it and when I became a full-time teacher, I told Mrs. LeBlanc I needed to be part of her club,” she said, adding her own children were young at the time and “realized the members of JADD were the kind of role models I wanted them to have when they got to high school.”
“Now my kids are old enough to be role models for the other kids,” Donze said.
One of them, Nicholas Donze, was in last week’s performances in a number of acts and explained why he enjoyed being involved with the show.
“It’s fun hanging out with all your friends and spending the weekend with them and getting to know them better,” the DSHS junior said. He said the show is put together over a single weekend.
“We started on Friday afternoon and we worked through the weekend and we rehearsed on Monday before the performance,” Nicholas said.
Brittany Kinney, another junior who was in multiple acts of the performance, also enjoyed spending the weekend with her friends and explained part of the process of putting on the show.
“A lot of it is really up to the students,” she said. “We come up with all our own dances.”
“This wouldn’t be possible without the countless number of alumni volunteers who help produce the show,” Ivy said. “Alumni help with choreography, rehearsals, and production.”
“One of the things I enjoyed most about it was all the alumni coming back and helping,” said Grace Stevens, a junior. “They gave us input on the program but made sure we knew we were going to have to do it all by ourselves.”
Taylor Allemon, another junior, explained why she enjoyed being a member of JADD and a performer in the prom show, in which she performed in several portions.
“I love all the people in JADD and I love the bonds formed with new members and made stronger with old members that we’ve been with for the last couple of years,” she said.
“And I love that you can openly share your talents in the show, your quirks with everybody else and they’re not going to judge you, they’re just going to laugh with you,” Allemon said.
The club partners with several businesses for the Prom Fashion Show, including Squires who donated over $7,000 in tuxedos this year. Many restaurants including Maria’s Mexican Restaurant, Don’s Seafood and Big Mike’s Sports Bar and Grill donated food to feed the models.
Tommy Comeaux is the Lifestyle editor at The Livingston Parish News. He can be reached via email at TommyComeaux@gmail.com. You can also follow him on Twitter @tommycomeaux.