A dress for prom, a dream come true

At a special event Saturday, Girls from Vancouver school district high schools can get a gown for $5

By Susan Parrish, Columbian education reporter



If you go

• What: Dreams Coming Alive prom dress event for high school girls in Vancouver Public Schools.

• When: Noon to 3 p.m. Saturday.

• Where: Hudson's Bay High School's aerobics room, 1601 E. McLoughlin Blvd.

• Cost: $5 per dress or free if a girl donates a dress. High school ID card required.

• Donations: Accepted until Friday in the school office. Needed items: Prom dresses, shoes, accessories, perfume, hair-care items.

• Information: eric.saueracker@vansd.org or christina.chen@vansd.org.

• What: Becca's Closet prom dress event for Battle Ground High School girls.

• When: Late April, date and time to be determined.

• Where: Battle Ground High School, 300 W. Main St., Battle Ground.

• Cost: No charge for girls to choose a dress.

• Donations: Accepted through April 26 in the school office. Needed items: Prom dresses, shoes, accessories.

• Information: 360-885-6500 or email woelfel.evalynn@battlegroundps.org.

Christina Chen is the fairy godmother of Hudson's Bay High School. Unlike Cinderella's fairy godmother, she doesn't wave her magic wand and chant "Bibbidi-bobbidi-boo!" to transform ragged, sooty clothing into stunning ball gowns.

However, she and a cadre of National Honor Society volunteers are transforming the school's mirrored aerobics classroom into a prom dress boutique for Saturday's Dreams Coming Alive prom dress extravaganza. From noon to 3 p.m. Saturday, high school girls from Vancouver Public Schools can choose a gently worn prom dress for $5 — about the price of a frappuccino. Shoppers who donate a gown can choose another at no cost. If girls can't afford $5, vouchers are available. All shoppers must show their high student ID cards.

For several years, the Foundation for Vancouver Public Schools organized Operation Fairy Godmother, a much larger prom dress event that mushroomed into a 3,000-dress giveaway at the empty Mervyn's store at the Westfield Vancouver mall. The foundation's last prom dress event was in 2010, when Chen was a freshman.

"I knew a lot of girls at Bay who needed that program," Chen said. "So many students qualify for free and reduced lunch and can't afford a $300 prom dress at Macy's."

The first year the foundation didn't offer the event, Chen, then a sophomore, organized the school's own prom dress event through Bay's National Honor Society chapter. Now a senior, Chen, 18, is the president of the school's NHS chapter and is directing her third prom dress event. The full-time Running Start student has gathered a team of NHS volunteers to help.

Students will create makeshift dressing rooms by turning wrestling mats on end. The room's wall of mirrors offers space for a dozen girls at a time to see how they look in the gowns.

So far, the students have collected about 50 gently used prom dresses, from long formals to minis ranging in color from classic black and white to cherry, chartreuse, plum and lemon in fabrics including silk, satin and tulle, and embellished with lace, sequins and other bling.

On Saturday, the gowns will be displayed by color and then size. Strappy shoes will be displayed on step aerobic benches. Also available at low prices will be Audrey Hepburn-esque elbow-length gloves, evening bags, shawls and other accessories.

Community members can donate gently worn dresses, shoes and other accessories by bringing them to the school's main office until Friday afternoon. Items become the property of the school and can't be returned. If the dresses aren't chosen this year or next, they're passed on to the school's drama department.

The club used some money raised at last year's event to purchase new garment racks and to dry clean some of the gowns. The remainder of the money is used for NHS service projects. This year's project is a sculpture for the school's courtyard flower bed.

Battle Ground High School is still collecting dresses and accessories for its prom dress event next week. Similar events occurred earlier this spring at Union High School in the Evergreen school district and at Prairie High School in Battle Ground.

Chen will be wearing a red gown given to her by a family member when she attends Bay's senior prom May 4 at the Elysian Ballroom in downtown Portland. She'll be accompanied by her sister, Angela Hartrampf, a Bay freshman, also wearing a red gown.

When Chen graduates, she's passing her fairy godmother wand on to her sister, who will continue the tradition and ensure that dreams really do come true.

"Last year, one girl tried on this beautiful yellow dress like what Belle wears in 'Beauty and the Beast.' She was like — glowing," Chen said, smiling. "Her friend said, 'You're so pretty in that dress!' The girl was crying when she left with her dress. It was really sweet."