Monday, April 5, 2010

Making Prom Dreams Come True for All Girls

My friend Steve and me at our Senior Prom. He wasn't my date, but I don't remember the name of my date. And for the record, the tie I'm wearing was my date's tie and I don't have any idea why I'm wearing it. May 1989

For so many high school girls, attending prom is just another rite of passage. It's like turning 16 and getting a drivers' license. It just happens. No one gives much thought to whether or not they will attend because they just will.

Many girls start planning their senior prom the moment they enter high school. They read all the prom editions of teen magazines - Seventeen, Cosmo Girl, etc. - fantasizing what they would look like in each dress. They spend hours walking the malls with their girlfriends in search of the perfect prom dress, even if they're freshmen or sophomores and aren't going unless they happen to have upperclassmen boyfriends. They pick out their hairstyles and know how their nails and make-up will be done. They've got all the details planned out to the minute.

But for many girls, prom is not an automatic reality. Whether it's finances or disabilities that could get in the way, for many girls, attending prom is simply out of reach . . . or so they may think.

Over the last few years, I've seen a number of heartwarming stories about groups that come together to make prom a reality for all girls - regardless of finances or other challenges. They collect like-new prom dresses, shoes, and accessories and set up a "shop" for the girls to come try on the gowns and share in the whole "finding the perfect prom dress experience." The girls either receive the dresses for free or for a fraction of their real cost. Sometimes, the organizations even bring in photographers, make-up artists, and hair stylists, to truly allow the girls to feel princess-like, even if just for an afternoon.

Recently, I've seen two of these stories and both about brought me to tears.

The first was last month on the ABC Nightly News about an organization in Atlanta that provides prom dresses for foster girls. I wish I could find the video because the stories of the moms and the girls and seeing the looks on their faces when they find just the right dress was priceless. They call the event Prom-a-Palooza. What a great name!

The second story was in the Chicago Tribune last week.

Making more prom wishes come true

Wish Upon A Wardrobe expands mission beyond homeless girls
by Phyllis Benson, Chicago Tribune, March 31, 2010

Who: Deirdre White is president of the Elgin Junior Service Board, which runs Wish Upon a Wardrobe, providing prom dresses and accessories for girls who could not otherwise afford them.

What she does: Wish Upon a Wardrobe held its first event last year, providing homeless girls in school districts 300, 301 and U-46 with prom dresses, accessories and shoes.

"There were happy tears that day. The girls were having so much fun," White said. "With the economy, we thought why don't we open it up a little more?"

Homeless girls will have a private session, but any currently enrolled high school female may attend the public event from noon to 2 p.m. April 10 in the YWCA Elgin, 220 E. Chicago St. A valid school ID or other proof of current enrollment is required. Girls will be assisted by personal shoppers.

The dresses, which White said are in the latest styles and colors, and accessories will be available for only $20.

"The girls are super-happy when they walk away," she said. "It's empowering women, and it's supporting the family. ... Financially, it's really hard for parents these days to have to say. ‘No, we can't afford the dress for prom,' and girls can't go. But they leave here very empowered and feeling beautiful."

The goal of the Elgin Junior Service Board, which began in the 1930s as a YWCA service project, is to empower women and support families, White said. In addition to Wish Upon a Wardrobe, services include emergency and immediate dental care for children, a clothing center, financial assistance for health-related services, breast cancer awareness and mammograms, and a scholarship for single women with children through Elgin Community College's Scholarship Foundation.

Wish Upon a Wardrobe will soon expand when it receives a donation of more than 4,000 dresses from the Junior Women's League of Kane and DuPage counties. White is looking for donated space to store them.

White's wish list is a climate-controlled space (dresses can wilt in the summer and dry out in the winter) in Elgin with room for dress racks or tables, and preferably on the first floor or a space with elevator access. While she would prefer donated space, a nominal fee could be negotiated.

How you can help: A fundraiser, Game On!, a sports-themed variety show, will be held at 8 p.m. April 23 and 24 in Hemmens Cultural Center, 45 Symphony Way, Elgin. Tickets cost $40 premium and $20 main, and are available at or

To view samples of the dresses, visit To donate dresses, volunteer to sort dresses or be a personal shopper, or to donate storage space, call White at 847-742-7930 or e-mail

LMS Note: I know more organizations do this and I imagine it's done in Township High School District 214, but I couldn't find it. If you know of more organizations that provide this valuable service, leave it in the comments.

Wish Upon A Star,0,196573.story

Find ABC Nightly News story from a couple weeks ago about similar thing.

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