April 2, 2013
Prom charity brings touch of grace
Cortland Youth Bureau program offers teens free prom dresses
Bob Ellis/staff photographer
Erica Danega, youth service supervisor at the Cortland Youth Bureau, sorts through the many donated prom dresses available for girls going to their high school prom.
A Cortland Youth Bureau program has helped hundreds of local girls look their best at their proms the last four years.
Started in 2009 by Erica Danega, the bureau’s prom dress giveaway has donated dresses to young women who cannot afford their own.
It is modeled after similar programs in big cities, said Danega, the bureau’s youth services supervisor. The economic downturn was a big impetus for the program, she said.
In 2012, 77 girls received dresses through the program, the most since it began, Danega said. Since 2009, over 200 dresses have been given away, saving families at least $20,500, she said.
This year Danega is hoping to expand the program to men’s formal wear.
Danega said she is asked about men’s wear every year, but so far has not had much success in rounding any up.
With the first of two giveaways set to run from 9 a.m. to noon Friday at the bureau’s Youth Center, Danega has only received a single pair of men’s dress shoes so far and no suits or tuxedos at all.
“It’s harder to get the men’s stuff than the ladies’,” Danega said, noting that men’s clothing stays fashionable longer than women’s. Many men also rent their formal wear, she said.
Dresses that are not picked out in a year are stored and given away the next prom season, Danega said, and now the Youth Bureau has a collection of over 350 dresses.
But this year fewer dresses have come in.
“Our number of donations is down, I know that for sure,” Danega said, with 40 newly donated dresses arriving this year.
Last year the program received about 250 donations, she said.
The goal of the Youth Bureau is to help students with the “extras” of school life, such as extracurriculars, Danega said.
While the young women who get their gowns through the drive tend to be guarded about their situation, the mothers, grandmothers and guardians who come in with the girls talk about how it would be impossible for their loved one to attend the prom without the donated dresses, she said.
Many of the girls work and go to school, and have enough to focus on without worrying about where they will get their prom dresses from, Danega said.
“If we can do this one thing, I feel like we’ve done a good job,” she said.
The dress drive is a great program for girls without a lot of money, said Alisha Thurley, a senior at Cincinnatus Central High School, who found her prom dress at the Youth Bureau last week. On Monday, Thurley and brought back her friend, a sophomore at the high school, to get her prom dress.
Thurley donated a prom dress of her own that was not right for her, Thurley said in a phone interview Monday.
Thurley had looked at buying her own prom dress, but the one she found cost $184, and with taxes would have totaled nearly $200, Thurley said.
“So, yeah we definitely couldn’t afford that,” she said.
Dress alterations, another traditionally pricey item, are done for the girls by Danega’s mother, Kris Alexich of Liverpool, who donates her time.
Attending the prom was really important to Thurley because last year she was sick with mononucleosis and could not attend, Thurley said. She was also anxious to make memories with her friends before graduation.
Dress donors should not forget about bridesmaidx dresses, which are formal enough to wear to prom, Danega said, and petite and small-size dresses, as well as plus-size dresses, are always in demand. Shoes, jewelry and purses are also accepted as donations.
The donated dresses are new or in “like new” condition.
“A lot of what we have is just really nice, modern stuff,” Danega said. “So many of them haven’t been worn and that kills me.”
Custom made dresses have found their way into the bureau’s collection, too, she said, pointing out a pleated peach dress.
The Grecian-inspired, strapless gown was constructed in three parts: a draped bodice, a floor-length, pleated skirt and a flat, miniskirt to change into after the dance.
“To have a handmade dress — it’s so expensive,” Danega said, “and to have that come in and be there for a girl in our community is so neat.”
Dresses and men’s wear can be donated between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. at the bureau’s main office at 35 Port Watson St., or between 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. Monday through Thursday at the bureau’s Youth Center next door and between 3 p.m. and 9 p.m. Fridays at the Youth Center.
Formal wear giveaways are set for 9 a.m. to noon on Saturday, and from 3 to 8 p.m. April 24 at the Youth Bureau.
Appointments to pick out formal wear can also be made by calling 753-3021 ext. 26.
Monetary donations are welcome and are used to cover program expenses.
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