Prom Mom

Effort collects dresses for high school teens

Movie star Katherine Heigl had 27 bridesmaid’s dresses. Jenny High is way ahead of her.

High, a Henrico County mother, has more than 250 prom dresses. She doesn’t plan on keeping these dresses tucked away in a closet.

The donated new and gently-used dresses along with shoes, accessories and men’s suits and tuxedoes will help make prom night special for about 200 students.

Hermitage High School’s PTSA, a team of volunteers and High collected the items for the school’s first ‘Prom Bring It’ event on March 31.

Another 150 dresses will be donated by Promisses, a Richmond nonprofit group that has collected and given away dresses for the past five years.


High (pictured) began organizing the Henrico event to help make sure that as many students as possible have a chance to get prom queen glamorous (or prom king handsome) despite a tough economy.

“High school should be a time in life that you not only learn, but enjoy, and develop memories,” High said. “I didn’t want children to miss one of the most pivotal events in their lives due to financial challenges.”

The cost of outfitting a teen for a prom can add up. Dresses can cost about $300 or $400 and there’s still the price of shoes and accessories.

Students at participating Henrico County high schools must register with their guidance counselors to participate in the ‘Prom Bring It’ event. Some of the students who have already registered told High they’re participating because they want to take some responsibility for their prom without going to their parents for money.

Eventually, the outfits that are collected will be moved to a donated storefront at Virginia Centers Common mall. Students who have registered will “shop” at the event for outfits to wear to their proms.

For now, the dresses of varied sizes, colors and styles and other items are kept secure in an unusual storage area. Chris Rollison, Hermitage High’s director of student activities, gave us a tour recently.

“We’re underneath the gymnasium,” Rollison explained. “Behind you is our basketball team room. Across the hallway is our wrestling team room. This is a storage area for some wrestling equipment. Our girl’s soccer team stores some things in here.”

The room isn’t upscale but it works well for now as more items arrive and are hung on donated clothing racks or stacked in boxes inside built-in storage units.

High and others on the committee are working to make the final arrangements for the main event. She said they still need more suits and tuxes for the young men. And many of the donated items still need dry cleaning.

“The amount of work that goes into organizing an event like this is more difficult than I imagined,” High said. “Thank God for the ladies on my committee. They have been a great support.”

Clothing stores, shoe stores, and beauty salons, along with other merchants, have donated items, services and money.

“I am amazed at the overwhelming support from local and major businesses,” High said.

Another committee member, Charlene Easter of Epiphany Beauty, will donate her expertise. She’ll conduct workshops for the young ladies to show them how to apply their make-up, style their hair and how to accessorize for their special night.

The Henrico County volunteers have gotten support from Promisses, which was started in 2007 by Latasha Tucker, according to the group’s website. Tucker launched the group with the goal of providing less fortunate girls the chance to have a selection of gently-worn but pretty prom dresses. The group collected so many dresses it can now share some with other prom events.

Davia Archer, a Promisses volunteer, said the group will host its sixth annual shopping day in Petersburg on March 17 for girls in the Tri-Cities area. She said the event is her way of making up for a missed opportunity.

“I did not attend my own prom. Therefore, I live vicariously through the hundreds of teen girls we help each year,” Archer said.

High recalled her prom night. She said that her father, who is from the Dominican Republic, and her mother, who is Lebanese, didn’t really understand how important the prom was for her. They were focused more on her graduation so her prom wasn’t as fabulous as she would have liked.

High said she wants these students to have good memories of the entire high school experience including prom night. “It’s a night you share with your closest friends, a memory that will live on forever.”

Asked if she feels like a fairy godmother, High laughed and said, “There are a lot of fairy godmothers involved [in this project.]”

For details about Prom Bring It, visit http://www.facebook.com/PROM.BRING.IT. For details about Promisses, visit
http://www.promisses.org.

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