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School and seamstress spin holiday magic for Salmon Arm student

Olivia Perry-Coultas, 17, showing off her dress to the Salmon Arm Secondary staff who quietly fundraised to have it tailor-made for her.
Image Credit: contributed
December 16, 2015 - 8:30 PM

SALMON ARM - Things were looking grim when Olivia Perry-Coultas and her teachers started looking for something she could wear to the Salmon Arm Secondary winter formal dance — few things fit and time was running out.

But the generosity of her community and strangers helped her feel like a princess for the special day.

Norma Jean Gomme is a teacher with the individual achievement program, a resource for students with cognitive disabilities. She helped her 17-year-old student in the program as she searched for the right outfit to wear to the school dance, which takes place tonight, Dec. 16.

Gomme says her student was excited to explore the rack of second-hand prom dresses available at the school, but was quickly disappointed when nothing fit. Frustrations continued when Perry-Coultas and her teachers searched local thrift stores and the student’s closet to find little meeting the formal standard.

“We just wanted her to have something appropriate to wear to the winter formal,” Gomme says. "She is a unique, delightful individual. She is a hard worker and when things please her, the smile and the enthusiasm is unbounded. She’s fun to work with and of course she has her challenges."

What happened next Gomme refers to as the ‘typical social trickle-down effect’. One of Perry-Coultas’ educational assistants casually mentioned the group was looking to outfit the student when the school secretary put a call out to other district staff on an online listserv.

“Within hours people were donating dresses. The secretary was getting so many returns,” Gomme says. “The generosity came from all corners."

Another educational assistant, Annette Rivers, contacted her friend Keren Huyter, a full-time seamstress, to see if she had options for Perry-Coultas. Examining her options, Huyter made the decision to sew the dress herself in a two-week period.

“We all just burst into tears (at the news),” Gomme says. “Before I even had a chance to really phone her mom, people were already saying 'I’d like to donate.'"

The donations were unsolicited and came in quietly and quickly, adding up to $150. Huyter used the money to buy the dress materials after sewing store FabricLand gave her another discount.

"I met with her and got her measurements and she sent me some pictures that she liked. I had to mash a few patterns together. She picked the colours. All (the examples) she showed me had sparkles,” Huyter says. “She wanted to go to the formal and there was nothing to wear so I made her Cinderella."

Feeling like the Fairy Godmother, Huyter created a floor-length royal blue gown with chiffon over satin and silver sparkles. With a bit of cash left over, Perry-Coultas’ teachers took her shopping for shoes to match.

“Her teachers are just amazing. I don’t even really know who they are; they just care about her so much,” Huyter says. “I’ve been feeling grinchy this year and felt like I needed to do something for somebody. Doing something for someone else is always better for someone who appreciates it. I think I got the bigger gift — it was just seeing her."

Gomme echoes Huyter’s sentiments.

“I just can’t say enough about (Huyter). She is a master seamstress. It was just one of those cases of unsolicited generosity. The dress fits her like a glove,” Gomme says. “If there is Christmas spirit, I would say that this embodies it."

Perry-Coultas was so touched by everyone’s efforts she thanked everyone and gave Huyter a hug, something Gomme says is uncharacteristic of her. She’s already mailed a thank you card and is meeting her teacher at the school tonight to get dressed up. She plans to wear the dress again for her graduation this spring.

“These students and people that find life a little more challenging than others really need a functioning team. There’s so much compassion in the world. There could not be a more deserving young lady,” Gomme says. “I think if this had been in May and not at Christmas, it would have been the same result."

To contact a reporter for this story, email Glynn Brothen at or call 250-319-7494. To contact the editor, email or call 250-718-2724.

News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2015
InfoTel News Ltd

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