When Cinderella needed a dress for the ball, she called upon her fairy godmother who, with a twirl of her wand, outfitted her in a gorgeous gown. For those young women who do not have a fashion fairy at their disposal, there’s Project Prom.
Started in 2003 by the Allegheny County Department of Human Services, Project Prom offers qualifying young people free new and slightly used gowns in current styles plus accessories.
Located on the upper level of Century III Mall in West Mifflin, Project Prom is equipped with dressing rooms and staffed with volunteers who serve as personal stylists. Gowns will be given away from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. March 15 and from 3 to 8 p.m. March 17-20.
Following the giveaway, leftover formal wear will be made available for public sale from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. March 29 with no item priced higher than $25. Funds from the sale will go toward the purchase of tuxedo rental gift certificates and gowns in needed sizes.
Ondrea Burton, events and donations manager for the county Department of Human Services, said the department, which works with some of the most vulnerable people in Allegheny County, started the program after realizing that many of the young women they serve were not able to attend their prom because of a lack of finances.
“It’s incredibly expensive and, unfortunately, there is a lot of energy and money given to it, so people feel very uncomfortable about it,” she said. “They shouldn’t have those thoughts when this is the quintessential high school event of the year.”
Since Project Prom’s inception, more than 1,000 young adults have made their selections from more than 4,000 donated items.
Students are eligible if they or someone in their family is receiving services from the department, is on unemployment, or if they qualify to receive free or reduced-price lunches.
Once deemed eligible, the young women visit the shop, where they are greeted by women from the community who have volunteered to serve as personal shoppers and help outfit them head to toe with dresses, shoes, purses and other accessories.
In addition, hair, nail, and tanning services donated by local salons are raffled off.
Spinning off the success of this event and in an effort to meet the same needs of young men, the department started Project Prom for Gentlemen in 2012. Now in its third year, Ms. Burton said, it continues to grow in popularity and support.
This free event for young men will take place from 5 to 8:30 p.m. April 10 at Shadyside Hospital Herberman Center on Centre Avenue in Shadyside. Eligibility requirements for the guys are the same as those for the young women; however, registration is open only to the first 100 qualifying young men.
After the teens are selected to attend, a formal invitation is sent in which they are instructed to wear a shirt with a collar and have their pants pulled up and secured with a belt.
“Just the setup of it and the anticipation of what they’re walking into, they come in and they’re doe-eyed,” Ms. Burton said. “Once they start to loosen up, they’re so much fun.”
Participants enjoy a catered meal and free tuxedo rental. Mentors from the community who have been recruited to serve as role models for the young men are on hand to offer words of wisdom, encouragement and motivation.
They also instruct the young men on how to tie bow ties and how to make other tie knots.
A certified etiquette coach is on hand to go over manners and proper ways for the students to conduct themselves. Ms. Burton said the hope is that they will carry the skills they learn that evening throughout their lifetime.
“They are just all-around wonderful events,” Ms. Burton said. “These are the memories that we love for the young men and women to take away with them.”
For the rest of February, South Hills Interfaith Ministries in Bethel Park will accept donations of clean, currently styled and undamaged formal wear and gift certificates for young women and men to enjoy their proms.
For more information: 412-350-3428 or www.alleghenycounty.us/dhs/projectprom.
Shannon M. Nass, freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.