Education

Teens saying yes to the dress at area prom drives

Prom is an important milestone for many teens. It can also be a financial hardship, since the cost of a gown and accessories can add up to hundreds of dollars.

Two area events are lessening that burden by offering free or greatly discounted dresses.

Warner Robins High School’s Demon Dress Drive is Feb. 18, and Say Yes to the Prom Dress Drive by the nonprofit I am Phenomenal Inc. is March 10 and 11 at Covenant Life Cathedral in Macon. Organizers will collect dresses until the events.

Amaris Hawkins Smith, a math support teacher at Southfield Elementary School, began the Say Yes to the Prom Dress Drive three years ago. After talking with parents and students in the community, she realized that many of them didn’t have the means to buy gowns. She didn’t want anyone to miss out on the prom experience, though.

“A student’s prom is the first time and sometimes the only time where they get to dress up and socialize with their friends,” Smith said. “People really don’t understand how expensive it is, especially during the child’s senior year when they’re getting ready to go to college.”

Between 200 and 300 dresses on average are collected for the event, and about 80 girls took home free dresses last year, Smith said. It’s geared toward 10th- through 12th-graders, but younger girls are welcome to shop if they have a school dance coming up.

Warner Robins’ Demon Dress Drive has been happening for at least 10 years. It was started by AP literature teacher Barbara Hilliard as a student council project and eventually became a debate team fundraiser, said Amanda Bone, the debate team coach and an Advanced Placement psychology and economics teacher.

“It’s been a really good thing. It taught the kids that they did not need a new dress,” Hilliard said. “It’s not what the dress costs, it’s how comfortable you are in it.”

The Demon Drive is open to students and the community, Bone said. Prices range from $50 for brand-new dresses to $5. Half the proceeds are used to send debate team members to national competitions, and the rest goes to a charity of the group’s choice, such as the Ronald McDonald House this year.

“By doing this dress drive, we’re allowing a lot of individuals to come and get their dresses for a lot cheaper,” said Warner Robins High junior Kaytria Land, who is helping with the Demon Dress Drive for the second year. “A lot of girls have left with one, two, sometimes three dresses or more, and they all just have a big smile on their face. I think that’s awesome, and that’s why I love doing this and helping out.”

The event has drawn anywhere from 100 to 300 shoppers, some lining up before the doors open. In addition to prom, women have found dresses to wear to military balls, sorority events, beauty pageants, college recitals and weddings, Bone said. Sharing Elegance, a longtime partner in the event, donates 50 to 100 new dresses each year.

Leftover gowns are kept for the next year, and some customers have even bought dresses, worn them and donated them back.

Both events will have changing rooms and dresses of all sizes, styles and colors.

Girls at the Macon event are asked if they are “saying yes to the prom dress” when they find their perfect gown, Hawkins said, playing off the popular television show. She remembered one hesitant young lady who started crying when she found a dress she loved. Bone said it’s neat to follow the dresses as they are tried on by multiple people and see who takes it home in the end.

“The girls light up. It’s almost like you see this transformation, that they become a little princess when they find the perfect dress,” Bone said. “They want to show off the dress for all their friends and their family. They’re picturing themselves on that night. They’re already kind of living that moment and the experiences that they’re going to have.”

Andrea Honaker: 478-744-4382, @TelegraphAndrea

Get a dress or donate one

DEMON DRESS DRIVE

When: 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Feb. 18.

Where: Warner Robins High School, 410 S. Davis Drive.

Cost: $5 to $50 per dress, cash or check only.

Who: The drive is open to the community and region.

Dress donations: Drop off at the Warner Robins High School front office on weekdays between 7:30 a.m. and 4 p.m.

SAY YES TO THE DRESS PROM DRIVE

When: 6-8 p.m. March 10 and 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. March 11

Where: Covenant Life Cathedral, 4543 Bloomfield Road, Macon

Cost: Free

Who: The drive is geared toward sophomores, juniors and seniors, but younger girls attending a formal event at their school are also welcome. The student must bring proof of school enrollment.

Dress donations: Drop off at James Hawkins’ State Farm office, 5580 Thomaston Road, Macon; or the Tubman Museum, 310 Cherry St., Macon. Contact Amaris Hawkins Smith at 678-467-4838 or iamphenomenal478@gmail.com to arrange a pick-up.

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