- Associated Press - Monday, April 3, 2017

HARRISONBURG, Va. (AP) - The days leading up to prom can be hectic, with an exhaustive checklist that includes finding a date, buying a dress, shoes, jewelry, accessories, a corsage, getting hair, nails and makeup done and securing restaurant reservations for the pre-prom dinner.

All of that adds up quickly. Deanna Reed, president-elect of the Harrisonburg Women’s Service League and mayor of Harrisonburg, estimates prom can cost up to $1,000 per person. To help local high school girls who may think twice about going to prom because of costs, Reed started the Fancy and Free Prom Boutique, which provides girls with prom dresses and accessories free of charge through community donations.

“We didn’t want girls who couldn’t afford to go to prom to miss out on that experience,” Reed said. “Prom is expensive, and we wanted to take that stress off the young ladies that, you don’t have to worry about if you can afford a dress or not - we can provide this for you.”

Reed started the program at the Lucy F. Simms Continuing Education Center - with help from Harrisonburg Parks and Recreation - four years ago, and requested the Harrisonburg Women’s Service League get involved after she joined the group in 2015.

The Harrisonburg Women’s Service League provides assistance to women and children, volunteering at soup kitchens, donating women’s items, giving scholarships to high school graduates and hosting a Young Women’s Leadership conference.

The boutique is held each year at the Simms Center. Dress donations are being accepted until March 31, and the boutique will open for one day only on April 1 from noon to 4 p.m. in the Simms Center’s gymnasium. Shoes, purses and other accessories may be donated as well.

“We turn this gym space into a boutique, so we have the dresses on actual racks, and we turn our restrooms into fitting rooms for the girls to try on, and then we turn one of the classrooms into an alteration room,” Reed said. “They’re able to try on the dresses there, and we have full-length mirrors.”

The boutique has received about 200 dresses over the years. Cory Jeffries, a city recreation program specialist, has helped out with the prom dress boutique for three years now, and said the number of dresses donated each year has increased.

“We’ve seen a lot more dresses come up. I would say we have upward of 60 or 70 dresses (donated) this year,” Jeffries said. “We’ve had a lot more people come in the last couple of days.”

Reed said they make sure to keep the dress styles up to date with current trends. The boutique has both long and short dresses ranging from a size 2 to 24. All the dresses are in good condition.

“You wear them once and that’s it,” Reed said.

A seamstress will be on site to make minor alterations free of charge.

For Reed, it’s a rewarding feeling to see the girls leave with smiles on their faces.

“The best feeling that I had was last year. We had a young lady who was going to prom. She couldn’t find a dress in her size, and she was able to find a dress, shoes, purse and accessories, so she walked out with the whole thing free,” she said.

With a dress, shoes and accessories already in the bag, the girls can then focus on checking off the other items on the prom checklist.

“It saves time looking for the dress. You can spend money elsewhere that you might need for the prom, like money to get your hair or nails done,” Jeffries said.

Relying on word of mouth and social media, the Fancy and Free Prom Boutique also services high school students in Rockingham County Public Schools. Anyone taking a dress from the boutique must be a local high school student. Sororities from James Madison University also donate dresses.

For now, the boutique only carries dresses. Reed said the boutique may eventually offer tuxedos, but as Jeffries pointed out, prom is typically more expensive for the girls.

“Being a man, we rented a tux to prom, but for girls, they have to purchase a dress,” Jeffries said.

Reed was initially unsure of how her idea for the free prom boutique would be received in the community, but saw the need in the Harrisonburg community as a mentor with On the Road Collaborative. So far, the boutique has been a success.

“I think it grows every year,” she said.

Anyone who wants to donate to the Fancy and Free Prom Boutique can drop items off at the Lucy F. Simms Center during business hours until March 31. However, Jeffries said the Simms Center will accept prom dresses all year round.


Information from: Daily News-Record, https://www.dnronline.com

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