In what may be a sign of the times, a local clothing charity is opening its prom dress giveaway program to the entire community, citing a belief that a growing number of low-income teens need help.
The intent of the Weddington-based Prom Project is to provide hundreds of teenage girls in Mecklenburg and Union counties with everything they need to attend their junior or senior proms.
This includes a formal gown, shoes, accessories and makeup all at no cost.
Even hairstyling is offered during the affair, set for March 23 at Weddington High School. That puts it at the height of the regions prom shopping blitz. Area proms begin in April.
Organizers of The Prom Project say they can afford to expand their effort because hundreds of dresses and accessories have been donated since the charity was formed three years ago and most have remained unclaimed.
Last year, only about 90 Monroe-area teens and their mothers or guardians showed up to choose from more than 600 gowns.
So that leaves us sitting on 500 dresses, and were getting more donations all the time, said Lana Lamkin, executive director of the Closet Ministry clothing charity, which spawned the project.
Thats why we decided to go big this year. We dont want the dresses to go to waste. They were given to us to be given away.
Teens have until March 22 to register. Those under 18 must be accompanied by their mother or a female guardian.
Organizers say the point of having a parent there is to make the day more than just a four-hour giving spree. Instead, its about giving mothers and daughters a chance to connect over shared interests.
Among the parents who have signed up is 50-year-old Rae, a divorced mother of two wholl bring her daughter, Alexa. It will be their second year, Rae said.
I was amazed last year. The program felt like it was all about us, with gift bags and jewelry and hundreds of beautiful dresses, said Rae, who declined to give her full name.
It was an afternoon devoted to just being a girl and indulging your femininity. And it never felt like we were there because we needed help. My daughter looked beautiful.
Dresses being given away are mostly used, though some are new, organizers said. A seamstress is on hand to help with needed adjustments.
Makeup artists and hairstylists complete the look, teaching the girls how to re-create the perfect style for their prom night.
Hairstylist Kattie Robinson is among the volunteers, and she brings her two teenage daughters with her. Last year, she did hair and makeup for about 15 teens in four hours.
Her mission, she said, is to make them feel like its their day at the ball.
Proms and weddings are landmark occasions in the life of girls that men simply dont understand, Robinson said.
Its that first time you feel like youre an adult, the first time you really get dressed up, she said. Girls these days spend all week getting ready for their prom.
What were doing is giving that same opportunity to girls who cant afford it and in the process creating a memory to last a lifetime.