Beams of light filled the Fogelson Theater Lobby at Moraine Valley Community College on April 2, as girls hurriedly moved up and down the rows scouring the racks for their dream prom dress. Carefully picking up each gown that caught their eye, they playfully held them up and spun around before asking friends to snap a picture.
Underlying the sense of excitement and fun was a feeling of relief. Relief that whatever dress, shoe or accessory chosen was free. Relief that their parents wouldn’t have to defer paying a bill just to see them attend one of the biggest nights of their lives: Senior Prom.
For Melina Hernandez, a junior at Argo Community High School, this meant the world to her.
“I was grateful that someone told me about this event because my family really can't afford it,” Melina said. “So not having to pay for a dress will allow me to spend my money on better things like college.”
Melina’s classmate Guadalupe Castro agreed: “My parents work a lot, so attending an event like this means that money can go toward things that my family really needs."
The Multicultural Affairs Committee at Moraine Valley Community College created the Dream Come True Project four years ago to provide free senior prom dresses and accessories for south suburban teens, who would otherwise sit out the prom because their families cannot afford it.
According to Prom-Night.com, some parents and high school students are shelling out up to $1,500 for senior prom, including dress and tux, accessories, bling, hair and makeup, tickets, dinner and limo.
“The economy is bad,” said Adrienne Stewart, director of Multicultural Affairs. “Families really can’t afford the cost of prom, but they strain themselves anyway in order to get their child the perfect dress. So we figured if we were able to give away dresses, and other essential items for free it could help reduce costs.”
To help spread the word about the dress giveaway, Stewart said organizers rely on “press releases and word of mouth” to alert the community about the project’s need for dress and accessory donations to outfit financially disadvantaged girls for senior prom.
Dream Come True also reaches out to area high schools to let girls know about the dress giveaway, which mirrors the successful Glass Slipper Project in Chicago that outfits girls for prom from public and private schools in the city.
“We really don’t have an issue finding gently used items because a lot of women buy dresses for weddings and other formal gatherings and then have no idea what to do with them afterward,” Stewart said. “So people are happy to give them to us.”
Donated dresses are primarily designated for girls who are planning to attend junior or senior prom, but Dream Come True also provides girls with dress for other formal dances, such as homecoming.
“Even though homecoming isn’t as expensive as prom,” Guadalupe said, “it’s still an extra cost that takes money away from my family. So being able to get my dress here means that my family doesn’t have to worry about anything.”
While this year's giveaway helped 27 girls find a dress, Stewart stressed that as long as dresses are still available she would be happy to meet with a girl one-on-one, and show her what they have left.
As the girls leave the theater with their new dresses in tow, the planning committee slowly packed up floor length gowns and sparkly bracelets as a sense of contentment settled in the air.
For more information about the Dream Come True Project, to make a donation or find a dress, call Veronica Wade at 708-974-5475. The project also accepts dresses of all styles and sizes that are in good condition, as well as shoes, purses, jewelry and other accessories throughout the year.