Prom can be one of the most magical nights of a young person’s life.
The lights, the feeling, the date and, of course, “the” outfit. South Kitsap High School’s prom was hosted June 11 and thanks to the Prom Closet, many young men and women in attendance were able to experience that magic.
The Prom Closet partners with South Kitsap Helpline and the Community Transition program at the high school, designed for students ages 18-21 years who have met state graduation requirements but continue to need additional skill development and support in transition.
The students in this program work at many facilities in the area including Park Vista retirement home, Vista apartments, Hi Joy Bowl, Harrison Medical Center and the Prom Closet.
“They choose what they do by interest and what we feel fits best,” Laura Lane, one of the para-educators and the supervisor of the Prom Closet, said.
The Prom Closet is located in the basement of the Helpline offices at 1012 Mitchell Ave. Thanks to the help of volunteers, what used to be a cold, dark basement and boiler room became a chic boutique with changing rooms and all.
“It was pretty scary down here when we moved in,” Lane said.
The room is set up like a boutique you’d find on 5th Ave. in Seattle. The racks are organized by size and color, separated into boys and girls sections.
The Prom Closet is like a library where, after making an appointment and donating goods to the food bank, anyone can come and borrow what they like, wear and return. However, instead of books, customers can rent dresses, tuxes, accessories and shoes. Sizes for clothes range from 2 to 28.
Because it is a school-run program, the Prom Closet operates during school hours most days and isn’t open over the summer because class isn’t in session.
The closet has more hours during dance season, and donations are always welcome, open or not.
“Dresses or monetary donations can be dropped off at Helpline at any time,” Lane said.
“When I come back in September, a lot of times there will be a big stack of dresses, and it’s great.”
Money is also a big need for the closet. Because they take care of the dry cleaning bill so there is no cost to the customers, Lane is often looking for a business to give them a deal or donations to help with that fee. Although checks are made out to Helpline, in order for the money to go to the Prom Closet, it needs to be specified on the check.
“Everything in here is 100 percent donated,” Lane said. “We have a great partnership with Helpline, but we don’t take anything out of the Helpline budget. We fundraise specifically for the Prom Closet.”
The two students working at the Prom Closet this year are 19-year-old Sandy and 21-year-old Rashmi. They worked there three days a week last year. However, Rashmi has aged out of the program and Sandy has elected out with how much she has learned and gained.
“I really like organizing and going through all the dresses,” Sandy said. “But your arms do get tired.”
Rashmi also liked organizing the store, as well, as when people come out to show the girls their selection. “They all look so happy,” she said.
Along with organizing the clothes, shoes and accessories, the girls sweep and dust regularly, handle the paperwork the renters sign agreeing to return the items, and deal with customer service.
“It’s a lot more than you think when you go into stores,” Sandy said.
But the hard work pays off when they help people find the outfit of their dreams while also helping their community.
“Our motto is: ‘Help the community and look great doing it,’” Lane said. “We get people who can definitely afford a new dress, and some who are customers of the food bank. Everybody is welcome.”
One of Lane’s favorite memories was the week before South Kitsap High’s prom. A student came in looking for a dress, and it was evident she wasn’t confident whether or not she would find one.
“She tried on a couple and hemmed and hawed, and I pulled a beautiful blue one and said, ‘Try this on,’” Lane said.
The girl called Lane to zip it up for her, and what Lane saw moved her to tears.
“She was floored,” Lane said. “She was so happy, and left feeling so beautiful. And you could tell she hadn’t felt that way when she walked in.
“We make a difference.”
Although the prom closet will be closed for the summer, donations of dresses, accessories, shoes, money or even deals on dry cleaning services are more than welcome. They can be dropped off at Helpline, 1012 Mitchell Ave. Lane also can be reached via the Prom Closet on Facebook.