When two Evanston Township High School graduating seniors walked into the Woman’s Club of Evanston’s clubhouse-turned “Dreams Delivered Prom Boutique” Tuesday they were awed by the multitude of racks and rows of flowing formal gowns, any one of them theirs for the taking.
Vernice Richardson and Destinee Adams were two of many ETHS girls who stopped by the “boutique” to pick out a dress, shoes and accessories – all free of charge – to attend prom next month.
They heard about the dress giveaway at school, the girls said.
“They made an announcement about the prom boutique in our school’s senior assembly, so I thought I’d come check it out,” said Richardson, who tried on outfits with Adams.
The girls, who are friends, attended together “to make the experience more fun,” Richardson said.
WCE and its supporters collected enough formal dresses over the past several weeks to help ensure that dozens of girls at Evanston Township High School have a chance to be the belle of the May 27 senior prom.
“Think about all the challenges facing young girls today,” said Woman’s Club of Evanston president, Chava Wu. “When a community comes together to support this generation of teens, we’re giving them so much more than just a dress.”
With the cost of the prom ticket, dress, shoes, jewelry, makeup and getting hair and makeup done, girls’ families often shell out hundreds of dollars to participate in prom, one of the milestone events of the high school years.
WCE members acknowledge that the costs can be prohibitively expensive and stressful for already-tapped out families. However, the Dreams Delivered event is not about income-levels or socio-economic status, WCE leaders said. For the most part, they said, any girl who made an appointment through the school to get a dress was able to participate in the giveaway.
Kim Stanton, a WCE member and chairwoman of this year’s Dreams Delivered effort, said that from Sunday to Tuesday, girls who had made an appointment were able to browse the boutique with a volunteer personal shopper – and even with a friend or relative along for support.
Stanton said on the first day of the dress distribution, 34 students were outfitted head-to-toe. All of the items – dresses, high-heels, earrings, bracelets, necklaces, purses and more – were donated.
WCE also partners with the charitable arm of the Delta Chi Omega chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc. for the Dreams Delivered event. With help from the sorority chapter, other club volunteers and ones from local merchants, the donated dresses, accessories and other supplies, get sorted. All of the volunteers help make sure every frock that hits the boutique’s racks is age-appropriate and ETHS prom dress code compliant, according to WCE leaders.
Over the past 11 years, Dreams Delivered has outfitted more than 800 ETHS students with new, or nearly new, formal dresses in a range of sizes and styles, all collected from local residents, organizers said.
“This is a place where young women can come in and feel special,” said Michelle McClure Lacy, a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Inc. and an organizing partner of Dreams Delivered. “I’ve seen girls come into this boutique, get outfitted, and walk out feeling empowered and beautiful.”
This year, there were at least 10 local businesses, churches – and even a state representative’s office – that collaborated with WCE and served as a drop-off point for people to make dress donations.
Rachel Hershinow, who owns Stella Boutique, a clothing store on Central Street in the north suburb, has offered her store as a collection point for the past five years, she said.
She said her regular customers know about the project and often save dresses to donate.
“People love repurposing their old dresses, many of which have only been worn once,” she said.
Kenny the Kleaner, a chain of Chicago-based dry cleaning stores, has cleaned gowns free of charge for the Dreams Delivered project since the program started. Owner, Kenny Davis, estimates his store has cleaned as many as 500 dresses over the years for young prom goers.
“When they come in to pick up their freshly pressed dresses, they’re absolutely beaming,” he said.
Libby Elliott is a freelancer.