Donated Dresses Help Prom Dreams Come True in Brooklyn

Spring means graduation and prom season – and that means money. The costliest items are the dance tickets and the formal wear. So a teen magazine and some Brooklyn elected officials organized a prom dress giveaway for girls who can’t afford their own. WNYC’s Kathleen Horan went to Brownsville to meet the young women and check out the selection:

The Multi-cultural community center is a squat building without any noticeable defining features. The exterior gives no indication of the excitement going on inside.

When the doors swing open...

It appears to be coming from the front of the room where three long, metal racks hold dresses the colors of tropical nail polish.

The girls pushing through the hangars seem to be surprised by what they find -.

Fourteen year old Joyness Cabrera holds a long, backless red dress in her hands she says she came to the giveaway not expecting to like anything:

CABERA: They nice…I thought they was going to be ugly but I find them nice.

REPORTER: There’s a party atmosphere in the room.

Girls are buzzing back to the dressing room area and exchanging their sweatshirts and jeans for silk, taffeta and sequins.

As they reappear in the main hall, their families and friends are often moved to applaud their transformations.

Fourteen year old Shaynaya Jackson models a grey satin gown for her whole family: sister, brother, cousin, father and mother Vienna who looks relieved:

JACKSON: We had a hard time trying finding something like this for her.

She was sitting there saying - mom you got to go get me a dress, you got to go get me a dress. And I seen this and I said this was her.

REPORTER: Her father Willie agrees:

FATHER: You know it’s on my daughter, wow, that’s my baby.

By this company giving this type of dresses it’s really a delight for those who can’t afford it. You know...its like a warm touch."

REPORTER: Janet Joveneli edits a teen magazine called J-14 – one of the organizers of the event.

She says it wasn’t hard to get the dresses donated. But she and her staff were serious about only including stylish dresses in good condition:

JOVENELI: We did give some thought to whether there would be some stigma attached to coming to get a donated dress…

there a lot of dresses here with tags -we don’t have a lot that are really outdated – so if helping them out with this can give them extra money to have their hair and makeup done it's just going to make them look that much better and feel that more confident - Its trying to help them boost their self –esteem so that they can have a dress that’s just as nice as the next girl."

REPORTER: Shaynaya holds a lavender dress now.

She says she’s busy at school with basketball and maintaining her 93 percent average.

She’s also trying to make up her mind what boy to take to the prom – it’s between Christopher or Donovan.

It’s apparent Shaynaya’s glow isn’t so dependent on the cut or color of her dress.

SHAYANYA: I’m nice, funny, mature, pretty, big – but still pretty –pretty eyes - a nice person to get to know."

REPORTER: As the event winds down – Jasmine August walks toward the door with a green, beaded gown in her hands looking pleased:

"JASMINE: I saw someone with it and it didn’t fit them right but it fit me perfectly.

I peeped at it and was wondering if they were going to take it or not but they decided not to."

REPORTER: There are still some dresses left on the rack – even a size 10 tea-length red Marc Jacobs number…it will have to wait for the next dance…For WNYC, I’m Kathleen Horan.