FAIRY GOD-MOTHERS—Volunteers and staff members, from left: Nikki Williams, Carolyn Jefferson, Shawna Dark, Lynne Boley, Josie Robinson and Ondrea Burton, helped young ladies find the right prom dress.



Prom can be a magical event in a high school student’s life. Many spend four years, looking forward to the occasion. And while it can be memorable, it can be very expensive. According to the USA Today website, families spend an average of between $1,000 and $2,000 on prom, with it increasing each year.
With an economy that is in shambles, many parents are finding it hard to put food on the table, let alone afford the cost of the dress and accessories. So in an effort to help, the Allegheny County Department of Human Services once again gave young women the chance to find that perfect dress at its Project Prom Shop, located in Century III Mall.
For one week, eligible local high school students were given the opportunity to select free trendy, formal attire from hundreds of new and gently used donated items.
“(Project Prom) has grown tremendously. This marks the 10th anniversary,” said Ondrea Burton, event and donations manager for the county DHS. “It’s a really wonderful experience and we’re hopeful that its something they will look back on for a lifetime.”
The girls were partnered with a personal stylist to select the dress and accessories to make that one evening special. Any high school student in Allegheny County who is receiving services or has a family member receiving services through the county DHS was eligible for the event. The donations are made from the general public and local retailers.

THE DRESS–Ondrea Burton assists DeJa Hopkins, of Hazelwood, with the final touches of choosing her prom dress at the Allegheny County Department of Human Services Project Prom Shop in Century III Mall. (Photo by J.L. Martello)

“These are things you see on the runway and at other boutiques,” Burton said. “It is more than just getting a dress. It’s a feeling of empowerment.” She explained that not only were girls given a consultation on their outward appearance, the stylists also imparted nuggets of wisdom, which is a service they would not normally receive at a regular boutique.
According to Elaine Plunkett, communications specialist for the county DHS, approximately 250 teen girls were assisted this year.
Michelle Longstreth, who visited the Project Prom Shop with her daughter, Zainah Flanigan, said, “It was awesome. Kudos to them (the individuals who put the event together). I think they should do it again next year.”
On March 30, from 10 a.m.-4 p.m., the general public will have the opportunity to purchase dresses and accessories at the Project Prom Shop. They promise that no dress will be more than $25.
Now, the county DHS has not forgotten about the young men. Through the Project Prom for Gentleman, every Thursday in April on the lower level of the Human Services building, young men will be given the opportunity to brush up on etiquette and receive a free tuxedo rental. Registration is required through a DHS caseworker.
(For more information on Project Prom and its services, call 412-350-3428 or email EventandDonationsTeam@Alle­ghenyCounty.us.)

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