One of the most memorable moments in a woman’s life is her high school prom night. There is nothing like the feeling a teenage girl feels when she finds the prom dress of her dreams, the one that fits right and makes her look and feel like a princess. That is the feeling that the Allegheny County Department of Human Services gave to more than 200 high school girls during their annual Project Prom Dress Giveaway, March 29-31 at Century III Mall.
|FAIRY GODMOTHERS—Miyoshi Anderson and Ondrea Burton stand with students DeArra Moore, left, and Monique Paige, right.
“Words cannot express the gratitude of seeing the smiles on the girl’s faces, and the expressions from the parents, especially the mothers,” Ondrea Burton of the DHS Office of Community Relations and the events and donations manager for Project Prom. “It was just overwhelming.”
Since 2003 Project Prom has been providing free prom dresses to eligible high school girls who may find it hard to purchase a dress from other vendors. Eligible students must live in Allegheny County and have a caretaker receiving unemployment benefits; receive or be eligible to receive free school lunch; or receive or have a member of their family currently receiving services through DHS.
“Based on the economy, families are struggling. A lot of families (have parents) who are laid off or struggling to pay (bills, health care, etc.), so to avoid challenges and having to make decisions between bills to pay, we provide the dresses,” Burton said.
Collections for new or slightly used formal dresses took place from February through March. Burton said not only do they provide dresses but they also try to provide accessories through donations. There were even local hair salons that donated their services for prom hairstyles. “We try to dress them from head to toe,” she said.
The giveaway took place at a former Foot Locker location in the mall, which was transformed into a store for young women to shop.
During the three-day event, there was a special guest appearance from Founder and Executive Director of Pittsburgh Fashion Week and model Miyoshi Anderson.
“It (Project Prom) is a fantastic program and it’s unfortunate that I did not know about it before. For girls who want to go to their prom this is an important event. I’ve seen girls not be able to go because they either did not have a date or dress,” Anderson said, as she was getting emotional just speaking about the event. “Seeing the faces of the girls as they walked out with a dress that was their own was priceless. They felt beautiful.”
Anderson said, “As women we always look for ‘the dress’ to have and it’s the same thing for these girls. We would get their ideas, take them and try to find a dress. We also suggested dresses. I am all about making people look and feel better.” Along with assisting in picking out the dresses, she said she also gave styling tips and encouragement. “I say don’t just bloom now, bloom all the time.”
While this was her first time partnering with Project Prom, she said she would be glad to be a part of it next year and for years to come; and plans on helping more with the program. She also said she would even possibly donate to the program next year.
One of the more touching stories of the event was when a student came to find a dress and could not find one to fit her the way she liked, so Burton promised that they wouldn’t stop here and that she would find the student a dress. “Because we did not find a dress that the student felt comfortable in, we used other resources to purchase a dress from a supporting vendor,” Burton said. The additional funding for the dress came from the Allegheny County Music Festival Fund, which provides services and opportunities to youths receiving assistance from DHS that would not otherwise be available (or covered) through traditional government funding. “Failure was not an option,” she said.
Burton also said that she would like to thank the donators for the numerous donations and their generosity. “We were able to make over 200 girls’ dreams come true. We hope to continue to grow so that we can continue to make them happen.”
Now that the young ladies have selected their dress, the additional dresses left over were sold at a public sale on April 6 at the Century III Mall location on the third floor. Dresses were sold for $25 or more.
(For more information on Project Prom, visit http://www.alleghenycounty.us/dhs/projectprom.)