Slay It Forward

For the past 30 years, Christel Williams-Hayes has sewn prom dresses for Chicago high students.

This year should have been no different.

She’d already met with her 10 clients, picked out fabrics and begun designing outfits. But as the number of COVID-19 cases increased and schools closed their doors, Williams-Hayes decided to hit pause on her prom dresses and use her sewing skills to begin making protective face masks.

“I appreciate every essential worker, and if there is anything I can do, even in a face mask, I will do my best to meet those needs and not at any cost,” said Williams-Hayes, a longtime Chicago Public Schools paraprofessional who is the now recording secretary for the Chicago Teacher Union,.

At first, she made just a few of the cloth face masks, but then calls came in requesting more and more.

“People are still reaching out,” Williams-Hayes said this week. And now that masks are advised for public outings, “everybody wants a mask.”

To meet the high demand, Williams-Hayes enlisted the help of her daughter, who also works for CPS.

“My daughter is not an expert but she’s learning,” Williams-Hayes said with a laugh. “She’s got her own little section set up in the living room. … I just appreciate the fact that she wants to do it and she is trying her best to do what she can.”

Some customers have offered to pay for the hand-sewn masks, and any money Williams-Hayes receives goes to an annual scholarship fund for high school seniors. This year, Williams-Hayes says that scholarship will mean even more, as it will go to seniors who are missing out on important celebrations and activities.

Although prom has been canceled for students across the city, Williams-Hayes plans to complete her 10 projects as soon as she’s able.

“I was on Facebook, and one of my customers posted that her daughter was reading a letter that she had received from the school and was crying and I immediately reached out to her and assured her that I’m still making her dress,” Williams-Hayes said.

“I’m finishing all of my projects,” Williams-Hayes added, “I don’t care if they hang them up in their closet or do whatever with them.”

One of her prom clients has a mother currently battling COVID-19.

“I’m making her daughter outfit for prom, whose openly gay and she’s wearing a beautiful pantsuit, and I can’t wait to finish that particular project,” Williams-Hayes said.

Despite all that’s going on in the world, Williams-Hayes’ customers are still devastated to be missing out on prom.

“It’s sad, it’s overwhelming,” Williams-Hayes said. “You’ve got to kinda keep them (the class of 2020) in a special place mentally because they look forward to this.”

Between face masks and prom projects, William-Hayes has lots of work left to do, but she’s determined to finish it all.

“If I could just bless somebody along the way,” William-Hayes said, “then I know that my labor has not been in vain.”

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Hey SLAYER! I’ve started a new series of posts called SLAY IT FORWARD. Each post is a submission from you of an act of kindness you have received or have witnessed that has inspired you. Let’s remind each other what’s important during this time and spread kindness… SLAY IT FORWARD.

To submit your own SLAY IT FORWARD story email me at carrie@stateofslay.com

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