When Prom Needs Fairy Godmothers – The Giving Gown Foundation works to ensure all teens can enjoy a special night
AAs soon as Destiny Davis walked into the Bammel Church of Christ Teen Center in Cypress, she knew she was in a magical place.
In front of the 17-year-old Law and Justice High School student were thousands of evening gowns, sorted by color – shades of magenta, electric blue, dark yellow, shimmering silver, emerald green and all the other shades of the rainbow – and sizes, from size zero to 32 XX.
“I was flabbergasted,” Davis says. “There are so many colors, so many things to choose from. It’s overwhelming, but in a good way.
With the help of her own personal buyer, aka “fairy godmother,” Davis tried on several dresses before deciding on one with a long-sleeved black beaded top and a dramatic long floral skirt to wear to her prom later this month. -this. She also picked out two pieces of jewelry before entering an adjoining room set up like a high-end shoe boutique filled with fashionable shoes to complete her ensemble.
“It was a mind-blowing experience,” Davis says. “It really helps you feel like a princess.”
All around the warehouse-sized room, unbridled joy was evident as teenagers searched for the perfect ballgown. They took photos of each other with their cellphones, dissecting the pros and cons of a certain dress, and Facetimed their mothers for a final opinion.
“You can’t see my feet, but I do happy feet,” an excited girl says as she turns to show off her chosen selection.
After trying on several dresses, Channelview High School senior Rachell Cardenas appeared poised to pick out a gorgeous, bejeweled purple dress. Are you saying yes to the dress? », asks a small group of volunteers who surround him, taking up the slogan of the long TLC reality series.
“Yes!” Cardenas shouts as everyone applauds.
“She said, ‘I want something narrow at the waist and flowy at the bottom,’ and boom, we got it,” says Ashton Herring, a volunteer fairy godmother who helped Cardenas on his quest to find the perfect dress. “She grabbed four killer dresses off the bat and all four were good, but it was her #1 pick. She looks stunning.
While some traditions have fallen by the wayside, Prom Night continues to be special. That takes on even greater significance this spring because it’s the first time many Houston-area high schools have returned to full-scale proms in two years as the pandemic wanes. But for many high school girls who can’t afford to spend hundreds of dollars on a prom dress and accessories, the night of memories that last a lifetime can’t be fulfilled.
Almost 15 years ago, The Giving Gown Foundation decided to tackle the problem head-on. The non-profit organization was established in 2008 to provide teenage girls facing difficult financial circumstances with a free head-to-toe prom look. In the first year, the organization equipped 85 young women. This year, more than 1,500 teens stopped by a weeklong prom boutique to pick out a free dress, jewelry and shoes for their special night.
“Our slogan is ‘More Than A Dress,'” said Giving Gown Foundation President Bobbi Jo Miller. PaperCity. “The dress is what gets the girls most excited when they first walk through the door and it’s our goal to get them. But they walk away with so much more than that.
After each teen chooses her dress and accessories, she attends empowerment sessions while volunteer seamstresses make any necessary minor alterations to her dress. This year’s sessions include a financial seminar led by the Woodland Junior League which focuses on budgeting, saving and goal setting, and “Finding the Superhero in You”, led by a portrait photographer Julia Gomezwhich emphasizes the particular inner beauty, strength and courage of each young woman.
“Prom is a once-in-a-lifetime event, and we want them to be able to attend and feel beautiful and have that special night, but we really want to empower their future,” Miller said.
Give more than dresses
Two years ago, the Prom Boutique was about to open when everything had to be abruptly closed due to the onset of the pandemic. So, this year’s edition featured an overwhelming number of dresses. Many are donated by individuals — Houston area Tidal cleaners accepts donations and cleans every dress — and outlets. Three Houston-area Macy’s stores donated several thousand dresses from their inventory.
Early on, foundation officials realized they didn’t have enough plus size dresses, so they use cash donations to buy dresses for curvy girls.
“Inclusiveness is very important to us and we want to make sure that every girl doesn’t just have one dress, but options of more than one dress, so we work really hard to make sure we have great dresses. size,” Miller said.
The group also strives to provide looks that teens want. “Some of the girls asked for tuxedos or women’s jumpsuits, so we bought a few as well. by Francesca donated a lot of wetsuits for us,” Miller says.
“We want the girls to feel strong and powerful and we know that everyone has their own style. Not everyone wants to wear a sequin prom dress, so we want to give them some options so that no matter what they feel comfortable in, they can look their best on prom night.
Accessories are also important. In addition to a large selection of necklaces and earrings, there are hundreds of scarves and sashes in a variety of matching colors.
“We serve a wide range of girls from different religions. Many of them need to be covered in certain ways, so we have boleros, shawls, things for girls who want to honor their modesty,” says Jeniffer Holland, Fundraising Director of Giving Gown.
An adjoining room has been transformed into a shoe boutique that rivals a high-end store. The room has been brightened up with special lighting, bookshelves and plush seating, thanks to a donation from former Houston Rockets star Chris Paul and his wife Jada, and here teenagers are looking for the perfect shoe to match their dress ball.
“Just the right pair of shoes can elevate an outfit,” Holland says.
Although there are many selections, the shoe store has been hit the hardest by the pandemic, Holland notes.
“Many vendors we received shoes from in the past have closed,” she says. “In 2019, Forever 21 sold us 500 pairs of shoes at $3 a pair. They no longer wear shoes. The charming Charlie and Payless have gone bankrupt. If we could find a shoe connection, that would be amazing.
The perfect fairy godmothers
The process of selecting a dress can be overwhelming, so that’s where the personal shopper/fairy godmother comes in. Each teen is paired with a volunteer who helps them navigate the room and offers advice.
“Sometimes their confidence just isn’t there to make a decision,” Holland says. “They’re very intimidated. That’s why we pair them up in a more intimate setting with a Fairy Godmother to try to help them regain their confidence to make those decisions.
“A lot of times you’ll see a girl come out and several volunteers will say, ‘That color looks great on you.’ And you instantly see a physical change in their posture. Their chins are up a little bit more.
While the girls are having a blast at the Prom Boutique, the volunteers say they get just as much out of the experience. Volunteer director Ann Marie Reigrut, who won the Ms. Texas pageant in 2017, remembers buying a prom dress when she was a high school student without access to an organization like The Giving Gown Foundation.
“I wanted a dress so badly, but we didn’t have the financial means to cover it, so my mom gave me her credit card and I bought my first dress,” says Reigrut. “I remember crying at the checkout. It enlightened me from within.
“It’s so empowering. And I still have it. Being able to give girls free prom dresses is so heartwarming and rewarding.
Kristin Smalley has been a volunteer Fairy Godmother since the organization’s inception and continues to enthusiastically support the cause.
“I don’t have kids, so I can enjoy it for a few hours,” says Smalley. “I can have the fun part of clothing shopping. What can’t you enjoy? Some of these girls have never had anything pretty in their lives, and now all of a sudden it’s like wow!
As the Giving Gown Foundation has grown, it has broadened the scope of its activities. It now distributes 10 scholarships of $1,000 each to graduating seniors and a $1,500 scholarship to a group alumni as well. Recipients say recognition means a lot.
“I love the Giving Gown Foundation. The scholarship award was more than a check. It’s a whole team of people who believe in me and want to invest in my future. They still send postcards of encouragement », says Sarah Grace KimberleyKinder HSPVA graduate and University of Houston student who came to national attention as a candidate on The voice.
As morning turns into afternoon at the Prom Boutique and a few large groups of high school kids walk off with their dresses as a new group of eager-eyed teenagers wait for their chance to choose a dress, volunteers restock the room with more dresses from an inventory of over 8,000 dresses.
“When people hear that, they think we don’t need dresses,” Holland says. “But by tomorrow you’ll see a huge difference (in the number of dresses). You’ll start to see the bridesmaid dresses, the beaded prom dresses from the 1990s.
“And on this last day, a lot of the creme de la creme dresses are gone. So we start again. »