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Volunteers Play Prom Fairy Godmother

Last year, when her parents told her she was on her own for her prom dress, Lorelei Kirchner, senior at South Lakes High School, got the bargain of a lifetime. “I had a hard time finding a dress at the mall. I heard about the dress drive at the community center through school and it was the last resort.”

Expecting to find “granny dresses and cocktail dresses,” Lorelei walked into a meeting room at the Reston Community Center (RCC). Converted into a boutique-style shop, the room was filled with everything a girl needs to get outfitted for the prom including dresses, shoes, jewelry, handbags and other accessories.

Shauna Cole, director of Teen Programs at RCC, piloted the Prom Dress Giveaway last year after the center got calls from girls looking for prom dresses and community members looking to donate.

The program is open to any girl in the community looking for a dress, but designed primarily for those who can’t afford one. Cole said, “We don’t want people not to go to their prom because they can’t afford a dress.” Cole reminisced about her senior gown, a long black one, “I loved it. I donated it last year.”

Cole and her staff look over each donation and keep only what is “in style” and in great condition. “We are looking for more donations. The more we have, the better selection we have. We would love to have more dresses in larger sizes.”

Last year, RCC received 300 usable gowns and about half of them were given out to area high school students.

Volunteers and RCC staff try to make the event as fun as possible. “A lot of it is about presentation,” Cole said. “We want the girls to be comfortable and not embarrassed.” The dresses are hung on racks according to size and accessories are neatly displayed according to category. The room is designed to give the feel of an upscale boutique with customer service to match.

A number of people are on hand to help teens with their shopping experience. A volunteer takes each girl and walks with her through the boutique helping her pick out dresses.

Eileen Boone donated several dresses and volunteered at last year’s event. She described the fun atmosphere while the girls picked out and tried on the gowns. “We would critique them and run into the bathroom to tell them what we thought. It was a lot of fun. Sometimes getting something that’s used deters people from coming, but I’m hoping it won’t because people have donated some really beautiful dresses that are as good as new.”

Kirchner agrees. She loved the experience and plans to return for her senior prom dress. “They had plenty of people willing to help you, it was amazing. And there wasn’t anyone there that was like, ‘oh, you need a dress because you can’t afford one,’ which I was kind of expecting. But they didn’t treat you any differently at all. It was great,” she said.

After the perfect gown is chosen, volunteers then assist with matching shoes, shawls, jewelry and handbags. “We had a lot of girls say they wouldn’t have been able to get a dress. It’s really nice to be able to help,” Cole said. “I think it’s one of the best community events that we do.”

To donate to the RCC Prom Dress Giveaway, drop dresses and accessories at the Reston Community Center in the Hunter Woods Shopping Center, 2310 Colts Neck Road, Reston, at the front desk any time between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m., Monday through Saturday, and 9 a.m. and 7 p.m. on Sundays. To arrange a pick-up, call Shauna Cole at 703-476-4500.

To participate in the Prom Dress Giveaway, visit the Reston Community Center in the Hunter Woods Shopping Center, 2310 Colts Neck Road, Reston, on Saturday, April 5 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.; or on Sundays, April 6, 13, 27 and May 4 from 5-7 p.m.