Imagine being able to change someone’s life with just one dress.
For most high school girls, going to prom is a celebration of all they’ve accomplished during their high school years. But for some, attending prom can be a huge financial burden, leaving it a dream that will never be realized. That’s where Jennifer Gaston comes in. Gaston is the director of the San Diego chapter of The Princess Project, a California non-profit organization that serves high school girls who may not otherwise be able to go to prom, by sending them to prom with the perfect dress.
The Princess Project was founded in San Francisco in 2001 and in its first year served 250 girls with prom dresses. In 2009, the organization expanded to serve San Diego and this year hopes to provide 1,200 girls across the county with prom dresses.
The Princess Project relies on donations of not only dresses, but accessories such as jewelry and handbags. With the average cost of attending prom nearing $1,100, providing girls with a free dress and accessories really eases the financial strain.
This year, the Princess Project will conduct dress giveaways from March 12 – 22 at the South Chula Vista Library, Horton Plaza Mall Downtown, Vista Library and El Cajon Library. Sign ups will begin in February and can be done online at www.PrincessProjectSD.org.
The giveaway event provides all the fashion, glamour and beauty a young girl could ever hope for. The event is set up like a boutique, and girls are paired with a personal shopper who measures and fits them and then helps them select the perfect dress.
“Prom is really the ‘coming out’ ceremony for American high school girls,” said Gaston. “And when we get to help send them to prom in a beautiful dress, it’s a really emotional experience for everyone.”
Recipients are not required to show proof of income in order to receive a dress, although the Princess Project serves mostly low-income, foster youth and homeless high school girls.
For some girls, the Princess Project is their very first experience with ever having worn a dress, let alone a prom dress. According to Gaston, the transformations that have taken place are amazing.
“Many girls are there with their moms or with a friend, although some are there by themselves,” she says. “We make it a point to let the girls know how beautiful they look. We want them to feel special – like a princess.”
Collection dates for dress donations run from January through March. Paris & Me Boutique in Coronado is serving as a drop off location to those who wish to donate dresses for this year’s giveaway. To date, Paris & Me has collected more than 50 dresses, and donations will continue through the end of February. The Princess Project will accept formal dresses that are cleaned, have no damage and are current styles. According to Gaston, popular colors include corals, teals and fuschia. Accessories such as jewelry, hair accessories and handbags (no shoes) are also needed. All donations are tax deductible. Paris & Me is also providing $20 gift cards to the boutique to those who drop off donations.
On March 6th, the Princess Project will host the 6th Annual Princess Project RUNWAY, their annual fundraiser that will include a dress design competition and silent auction. It will be held at the new La Jolla Brewing Company. Tickets will go on sale shortly.
Since 2001, more than 5,500 high school girls in San Diego have gone to prom in a beautiful dress thanks to the Princess Project. Statewide, the Princess Project has served 25,000 girls. Gaston says the experience has been so important to some of the girls that they have returned the following year to volunteer for the organization.
“We are with our girls for one hour,” she says. “In the end we give them a dress, but it’s so much more than that. We give them self esteem and beauty.”
Sequoia Booker, one of the 2013 dress drive recipients, left the Princess Project, prom dress in hand, with a powerful parting thought.
“Thank you so much. I feel pretty.”
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