At Kamiakin High, it takes a village to make a duchess

Jamie Jimenez, a LifeSkills student, puts on her Homecoming Duchess sash Friday with help from juniors Emily Rosenblum, left, and Madeline Lindholm, center, during a homecoming assembly at Kamiakin High School.
Jamie Jimenez, a LifeSkills student, puts on her Homecoming Duchess sash Friday with help from juniors Emily Rosenblum, left, and Madeline Lindholm, center, during a homecoming assembly at Kamiakin High School. Tri-City Herald

Kamiakin High School’s homecoming pep assembly was winding down, but there was still some cheering to do.

Nominees from the freshman, sophomore and junior classes popped balloons, learning they were their class’s representative to the homecoming court if they found a red piece of paper inside.

A few students held the scraps of paper aloft, and there was scattered cheering from the packed bleachers.

“And now here’s our duchess,” the student announcer said.

More cheers filled the gym as Jamie Jimenez, 19, ran down a length of construction paper set up as a red carpet. Then, after being led back by a teacher, a sash was draped over her shoulder and a tiara on her head.

It was the type of moment her family thought never possible for Jamie, who has Down syndrome and is in the Life Skills classroom at Kamiakin.

While they were happy that she would get to participate in homecoming and feel like any other high school kid, panic set in — how to afford a dress suitable for such an occasion?

“My brother was nearly in tears when we talked about it,” Melissa Moore, Jamie’s older sister, told the Herald. “He said he didn’t want to just put her out there in her church clothes because she would stand out.”

But Jamie got a dress, and a full makeover before the homecoming ceremony at Friday night’s game against Southridge High School at Lampson Field. She had a corsage to go with her tiara, and a photographer documented it all at no cost to the family.

“It’s such a beautiful thing to see in our community,” said Tatum McElroy, 16, a junior and co-president of Kamiakin’s Buddy Club.

All because her family, in a post to social media, asked to borrow a dress for the night.

Melissa and her brother, Jordan Jimenez — who has legal guardianship of Jamie as her mother is in a recovery home — didn’t know how they were going to do their sister’s title justice. Money is tight, and Jordan couldn’t afford to buy her a dress suitable for homecoming. So Melissa made a plea on Facebook: Did anyone have a size 7 evening gown Jamie could borrow?

The messages rushed in.

“I couldn’t even check messages because I had messages coming in,” Melissa said. “I was hearing from people I’d never heard of.”

Someone set up Jamie with an appointment at a Tri-City salon for hair and makeup. A florist is donating a corsage and another person offered to loan her a few tiaras. A photographer was scheduled to document Jamie getting ready for the big ceremony and to capture her on the field at halftime.

The dress, which is pink with a halter-style top and skirt just below the knee, came after a woman made arrangements at David’s Bridal, told Melissa that Jamie could pick out any dress she wanted and “her credit card number was on file.”

“She had a smile on her face as we tried on different dresses,” said sister-in-law Deanna Jimenez of taking Jamie to pick out the dress. “She loved it; she felt like a princess.”

While Jamie’s family didn’t know many of the people who stepped forward to help, there was a clear trend — many of them said they, too, were Kamiakin graduates and that “Braves have to stick together.”

Family, teachers and students who know Jamie describe her as sweet, a music lover and independent. She works three days a week for Value Village near Columbia Center mall, where she helps straighten up clothing racks among other duties.

Her teachers say she’s made a lot of progress during the past few years and she enjoys interacting with others — be they in Buddy Club, where students from outside the Life Skills program partner with them in activities, to an integrated gym class where she works with student mentor coaches.

She had gym class just before Friday’s assembly and frequently said “hi” to those she met and smiled.

More effort is going toward making students with special education needs part of the broader student population to prepare them for life after school, educators said. It’s part of the reasoning behind having a homecoming duchess, who is usually partnered with a duke from the Life Skills class as well, so they can be part of the festivities.

Kennewick and Southridge high schools also have homecoming royalty drawn from their special education students.

“I know in 1999, when I was at Kamiakin, you never saw the Life Skills kids,” said Melissa, who lives in Seattle.

Jamie wasn’t a big fan of the sash she received during the pep assembly, pulling it off afterward before one of her teachers helped her put it back on. But throughout the event she smiled and waved, happy to be with everyone.

“She’s just always been a little light,” Tatum said.

Ty Beaver: 509-582-1402;; Twitter: @_tybeaver