HANOVER TOWNSHIP, PA - Springtime for High School Seniors means prom season. But nowadays a dress can come with a hefty price tag. Well, the Bethlehem YWCA is changing that.
"We will have an array of two thousand dresses for sale to any junior or senior in high school for just $15 a piece," says YWCA Program Director Jen Wanisko, "in addition, we have accessories available at no extra charge."
This weekend the Northampton County organization is transforming ArtsQuest into a Pop-Up Prom Shop; with over 2 thousand new and nearly-new gowns on sale for less than a twenty! Each purchase comes with complimentary jewelry, shoes and a goodie-bag of make up donated by Wegmans that ultimately helps support the YWCA.
"We try to give a full service product here because not only do they get dresses, but we give them goodie-bags with makeup," explains YWCA volunteer Amanda Hecker, "if they find some shoes that fit, other accessories like purses and jewelry and stuff. So it’s kind of like an all inclusive type of event and it just helps round out the fact that, of course the dress is an essential part, getting all this other stuff makes it special I think."
"Also, Walgreens has makeup people that are coming and they’ll do test makeup thing for the girls so they know what to do for prom.," says another YWCA volunteer, Mary Mooney, " And that’s just all been donated. I just think that’s wonderful and incredible that people are so generous."
A recent survey by Visa found that American families spent an average of $919 on their prom-goers. Compare that to a peak in 2013, when families typically dished out more a thousand dollars ($1,139).
"We expect to get 200 girls through in about six hours. And that $15 prom dress when you multiply that through all the girls that are coming through that day, we’re probably saving local Lehigh Valley families about $50,000 in prom related costs," Wanisko tells PBS39 News Tonight reporter, K.C. Lopez, "So when you take that cumulative cost, we’re very proud of the event and we know we’re making a difference for individual families all throughout the valley."
Last year, this event helped more than 150 girls find beautiful, affordable fashion for end of school year events. Now, on the 13th time they’ve helped dress young women for prom, graduation and formal, the volunteers are expanding their efforts to make sure everyone walks away feeling ready for their special day! With gowns in every color, cut and style, from size 0 to 28, there’s something for everyone.
"They’re enthusiastic, they’re appreciative and they think that at the end of the day when they’re finished they have a real sense of confidence about themselves and they look beautiful. They come and sometimes there’s a little trepidation, especially if it’s the first time, they don’t know what to expect. And they’re usually surprised because the boutique is beautiful," explains Mooney, "It’s not like 5 or 10 dresses in a size, it’s 3 or 4 hundred dresses."
While putting a special spotlight on LGBTQ+ and disabled youth.
"We have dressing rooms with a lot more privacy than what our previous dressing rooms did and I know last year, from the student surveys that were filled out, probably 20 - 25% of the kids who came through, identified as LGBT so we’re standing up for all marginalized communities," says Wanisko, "We have this incredible inventory of dresses and we want to connect anybody who needs a dress for the prom season to be able to come in, feel comfortable, try on anything that they need and walk home with a $15 dress that is going to make them look fabulous and feel fabulous."
"We’ve had young ladies in wheelchairs that we’ve been able to absolutely take care of" recalls Mooney, "And she looked beautiful! We have dresses that are like two piece dresses that you can actually fit a person of special needs; we can fit them in their chair. One girl last year was great. We had these crazy high heels and she said, I’m not going to dance in them, I’m just going to wear them! So that was perfect for her. She really had a great self-image when she was finished with that day. I’m sure she came in thinking this is never going to happen and it was really great for all of us."
YWCA volunteers have been collecting dresses since the start of the new year and are ready to help shoppers hit the racks! Young women can stop in to pick up their dream gown at ArtsQuest at Steelstacks this Saturday, March 7th between 9:30AM and 1PM.
"Moms of college-aged girls are kind of the sweet spot for donors," explains Wanisko, "They come in with 8,9,10 dresses that their daughters no longer need. We also get some donations from local retailers and businesses that allow us to have new items in the inventory along with those nearly new items we get from other donors."
The YWCA will accept prom gowns and accessories at their offices for next year's event beginning in the new year. All items must be in excellent condition. To help make a teen’s special day picture perfect, without breaking the bank visit their website for more information.
Got a news tip? Email K.C. at KCLopez@WLVT.org!