Group helps girls get all dressed up for prom
Many high school girls fantasize about prom long before the night of the event, but the cost of dresses and accessories can make the dance only a dream for some students.
The Giving Gown Foundation provides opportunities for young women in the area to attend prom, regardless of their financial situation. This year, the group helped more than 400 girls dress for prom.
JoAnn Trchalek, founder of the nonprofit, believes prom is an important milestone in a young woman's life. "It's as much of an emotional need as a financial one," she said. "It's important that all girls have the prom experience."
Trchalek explained that prom is more than a dance; it's a celebration of high school achievement.
"Going to prom means these girls stayed in school and are on track to graduate," she said. "They deserve to have a night to shine."
Trchalek was inspired to create the Giving Gown Foundation, after reading about a similar group operating in Kentucky. "My heart was touched. I felt we needed something like that in our area," she said.
She started collecting dresses in 2008 and organized the group's first give-away event, Boutique Day, with co-founder Adina Walker.
Walker read an article about Trchalek's foundation and wanted to help. She remembered working as a checker at a grocery store while she was in high school and buying her own prom dress at a resale shop.
"I know how hard it can be," she said. "With the economy the way it is and parents losing their jobs, it can be difficult to afford prom."
Walker helped Trchalek dress 91 girls for the first Boutique Day. The next year, the foundation helped 336 girls and the following year, 450 girls.
Registration to participate in the program starts in December of each year. The Giving Gown Foundation sends information throughout the community, focusing on schools.
The girls pick a day to come in and work one-on-one with a volunteer, who helps them assemble the whole prom ensemble – dress, shoes, purse, a make-up kit and jewelry.
The Boutique Days are held in March, after Spring Break, in an effort to reach more students. "We want to help as many girls as possible," Trchalek said. "We have girls that come from Beaumont and Galveston. If they can get to us, we'll get them a dress."
Trchalek said the dress is second to the experience. She wants young women to have a positive interaction with someone who cares about them.
"We want it to be like an upscale shopping experience," Trchalek said. "It's important for them to have someone dote on them and tell them they're beautiful."
Trchalek said teenage years are a critical time in a woman's life, and she wants young women to have support and encouragement during this period.
Over the past two years, the Bammel Church of Christ located on FM 1960 has donated space to serve as a boutique for the foundation. The event spans a weekend and requires around 200 volunteers to sort and organize the dresses and to act as matchmakers between the gowns and girls.
"It takes an army to put it all together," Trchalek said.
The Giving Gown Foundation is nonprofit corporation, completely run by board members and volunteers.
"Most of the volunteers work full time during the week," Trchalek said. "We give all of our extra time and energy to the Giving Gown."
Trchalek works as an executive assistant in the corporate world. Her daughter graduated from high school last year.
"Being around a lot of teens, I saw the need for this in our own neighborhood," she said. "We're only able to spend one or two hours with these girls, and we know they're just a reaching a few out of the thousands who need help."
Trchalek said she hopes the foundation will one day have its own facility, instead of operating out of storage spaces and donated rooms.
She also dreams of the location growing into a teen center, a space where teenagers could "just hang out" and receive the encouragement they need to stay in school.
For now, the group remains focused on their annual event. Walker said helping the young women is worth the year-round effort.
"The stories we hear and the thank you cards and hugs we receive make it all worthwhile," she said. "We're showing these girls that they are loved."
The Giving Gown Foundation hosts fundraisers and accepts donations year round. The group accepts new or like-new formals and is especially in need of plus sizes. They also accept jewelry, shoes, handbags and unopened cosmetics, including samples.
To volunteer, make a donation or to register to receive a gown, visit the Giving Gown Foundation's web site at www.givinggown.org. All drop off locations for donations are listed online.
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