John Barsby Secondary grad Claudia Yaya, with the donated dress she wore Saturday at prom. Her dress had been stolen off her doorstep the week of prom. GREG SAKAKI/The News Bulletin

Nanaimo teen makes it to prom days after her dress was stolen

Donated dress, Lamborghini ride make it a prom night to remember for John Barsby grad

A Nanaimo teen’s prom was totally ruined – right up until it became everything she could have wished for.

Claudia Yaya, 17, went to her John Barsby Secondary School prom downtown on Saturday night. She was picked up and dropped off in a Lamborghini, the belle of the ball in a blue-teal dress, and she danced, and took her shoes off so she could dance some more.

“Everything was perfect,” she said.

It very nearly wasn’t.

The days leading up to prom were tear-soaked after Yaya’s dress was stolen right off of her doorstep minutes after it was delivered.

She had ordered it from China, $800 or so, plus extra for express shipping to make sure it arrived just in time. It was delivered to her house in the hospital district June 5 as expected, but by the time Yaya got home from school and looked for it, the parcel was gone. She knocked on every neighbour’s door and double and triple-checked with the delivery company.

“I was in denial and then I was overwhelmed with everything,” she said. “I just started crying, I burst into tears, and I called my mom crying and she was in her office and she started crying.”

Yaya called a friend who accompanied her to a nearby homeless camp to see if the parcel had ended up there, but no luck. Yaya found herself sobbing over an iced capp in Tim Hortons; another customer actually inquired if her boyfriend had broken up with her.

She told her tale of woe on Facebook that night, and though it garnered a lot of shares overnight and a lot of sympathy at school the next day, Yaya began making calls to cancel prom-related appointments, resigned to missing the event.

“I didn’t really care much about prom until the day I found out that it could not happen,” she said. “You’re like, ‘oh, it’s just a day where we look pretty and take pictures with our friends,’ but when it was gone and I knew that I was not going to have that senior experience that everyone has … I felt like everyone else was having that day except me and it really felt lonely.”

Nanaimo’s Prom Closet charity was some help, but there was only so much selection, and though Yaya chose a red dress, all she wanted was the one she had ordered. Meanwhile, her Facebook post was still spreading, people in Victoria and Vancouver were offering support, and pretty soon, Yaya received a message from a Nanaimo dress-making business.

Linda and Jim Jesson of Party Girl Fashion Exclusives reached out immediately after a daughter’s friend had heard what happened.

“[We] said, ‘come have a look at our collection of dresses; if something fits, we’ll definitely help you out, and if something doesn’t fit, we’re still going to help you,’” Linda Jesson said. “We’ve had two daughters that have gone through prom and we know how special that is.”

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The moment Yaya was matched up with the blue-teal dress, which is “gorgeous” and “flows,” her mind was made up – she was going to prom.

“We just feel really lucky that we were able to have a dress that fit her and she looked so stunning in,” Linda said.

Jim Jesson picked up Yaya himself on prom night in his Lamborghini, kind of like Cinderella’s carriage, the teen said.

“Prom was amazing … It was so much fun. I had the time of my life,” she said.

And now that it’s over, Yaya won’t ever again be the girl who’s crying because her dress got stolen. In the fall she starts her bachelor of science in biochemistry at the University of Northern B.C., and after that, it’s on to med school. She talks about how she wants to eventually travel around and volunteer in her field, because she’s seen first-hand the failures of health care in central Africa.

She and her mother moved to Canada from Cameroon five years ago and it’s always been just the two of them. Maybe now, though, somewhere between a stolen dress and a donated one, there can be found the fabric of a community.

“If I was going to go to prom, it was just going to be [my mom] and me in the pictures,” Yaya said. “But this showed me that I have family, not just my mom, but my school’s my family, Nanaimo’s my family, Victoria’s my family, B.C. is my family, and I feel home now.”



editor@nanaimobulletin.com

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