High school students find the perfect attire for prom at Prom Possible

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Andrea Anderson
Thursday, April 24, 2014

WHITEWATER—Katrina Engelbrecht opened the door of her makeshift fitting room and the crowd of women waiting in the hallway went wild.

“You have curves, use them,” Terrie Parenteau, a volunteer, said.

Engelbrecht, a little worried about the fit, said she wasn't sure.

“Let the genie out of the bottle,” Parenteau said in encouragement.

Engelbrecht, her friends and the other women chuckled.

“This is seriously a magical miracle because I've been to the Boston Store, Sears and nothing,” Engelbrecht said with a contagious smile.

Engelbrecht, a junior, was shopping for the perfect dress for the Elkhorn High School prom in May. She said she found two fierce contenders Wednesday night at the Community Clothes Closet's event, Prom Possible.

The price of each dress? Free.

Engelbrecht and a number of other girls found prom dresses and accessories this month at the Community Clothes Closet, which is located on the second floor of the Whitewater Congregational United Church of Christ. It collects clothes and provides them free to those in need.

Kay Robers, one of three Prom Possible organizers and a Community Clothes Closet volunteer, said the event is a “labor of love.”

The idea of providing formal wear and accessories for boys and girls was sparked in February when Emily Babcock brought 10 to 15 dresses to the Community Clothes Closet. The dresses were from various high school dances and a few weddings.

The UW-Whitewater senior didn't have a use for them anymore.

Robers and Babcock talked and decided collecting gently-used formal wear would be a way for high school students to forgo part of prom's expenses.

“When I was in high school, I would see girls either have dress pants on or just jeans with a nice top because they couldn't afford a dress," Babcock said. "I was like, 'Why keep dresses in my closet when they can be given to girls to make their prom night much more enjoyable?'”

Teens want to be able to look back at this annual rite of passage and remember it fondly. Being glammed up and feeling like a million bucks can help make that happen. But not everyone has the budget to go all out.

An average household will spend $978 on prom this year, according to a nationwide survey conducted by Visa. That's a 14 percent drop from 2013.

Last year, the average cost for tickets, dinner, attire and a limousine was $1,139.

Midwest families spend the least. According to Visa, the average Midwest family will spend $835 for their teen to dance the night away.

Dropping that amount of money on prom is unfathomable for most, even if you want your teen to have a magical night.

Engelbrecht's family couldn't afford to spend lavishly.

“I honestly didn't think I was going to be able to go to prom,” Engelbrecht said. “The ticket is already $50.”

Now she can.

And that's what the Community Clothes Closet volunteers wanted to make happen.

“We just wanted people to be able to go (to prom),” Robers said. “If they couldn't afford a dress or if they had something else they need to do with the money instead of getting a dress … We just do it so people have money to do other things with. It helps the money go farther.”

It's the first year for Prom Possible at the Community Clothes Closet, but the concept is no stranger to Whitewater.

In 2013, Whitewater High School's National Honors Society collected dresses for prom. About 10 or 15 girls walked away with dresses, said Pamela Sonmor-Wintz, Whitewater High School counselor and National Honor Society adviser.

“A lot of times people wear a dress one time but it hangs in their closet for 20 years." Sonmor-Wintz said. "It was an opportunity for people to give back and feel good about giving back."

This year, Community Clothes Closet organizers reached out to the high school and asked if it would like to be a part of Prom Possible at the church. Sonmor-Wintz and the NHS students were in.

Beginning in March, people began bringing gently-used formal attire to the church. In the end, more than 140 dresses were donated, as were two full tuxedos, several pants and dress shirts, and countless shoes and accessories.

The high school, UW-Whitewater organizations and students, and community members donated items, Robers said.

Wednesday was the second and last Prom Possible night this month before prom season hits. On April 9, 20 girls walked away with prom dresses and a bulk of the male attire was taken, Robers said.

People from East Troy, Elkhorn, Palmyra, Whitewater and Johnson Creek visited the last event, Robers said.

Last time, a group of four girls from Abilities, a group home in Fort Atkinson, walked away with dresses for a prom the home is holding.

“They were so excited,” Robers said. “That was just the frosting on the cake. If we didn't give away another dress that whole night it was OK because those girls were so excited.”

Women also volunteered their time to conduct alterations onsite so students don't walk away with upcoming expenses.

“It's unbelievable. People are so generous,” Robers said.

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