It’s the time of year when teens in the Washington D.C. area search for the fanciest gowns, buy the swankiest suits or rent the classiest tuxedos: it’s prom season! Unfortunately, many teens in the area can’t financially afford to look as elegant as they want.
CBS Radio station WPGC 95.5 and non-profit organization Once Upon a Prom stepped up to that challenge by providing hundreds of teens across the region with free prom attire at their sixth annual Operation Pretty and Polished event. WPGC, along with El Zol 107.9 radio, partnered with State Farm for the six-hour event hosted by reality television star Paul Wharton on May 3 at the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Washington in northeast Washington, D.C.
Throughout the year, everything from gently used dresses to suits, shoes and accessories are collected and housed at various State Farm locations. With much anticipation, local teens and their parents waited in line beginning at 7 a.m. for the doors to open. Students were given a number, based on their arrival time, to choose their prom gear in an orderly manner.
“I was excited to give back and be a part of this [event],” said Wanda Jenkins, Miss University of the District of Columbia 2013-2014. “The cost of shoes, a gown, and make-up is expensive.”
“I told the girls and boys to remember this day and [remember] who helped them with prepare for their prom and give back when they get older,” she added.
With more than 1,000 garments to choose from, some students attending their eighth grade junior prom or their 12th grade senior prom felt overwhelmed with the huge selection. Shae, 17, said she was simply looking for a red dress for Suitland High School’s senior prom. After trying on four red gowns, the senior could not decide what to take home.
Female celebrity shoppers included Jenkins, Miss Maryland Jr High 2014 Michaela Smith, recording artist Tulani, Tati of WPGC’s Pablo Morning Show, on-air personality Sunni and the City, and ladies of the WPGC Street Team assisted the girls in finding the right look. Former Washington Redskins player Josh Morgan, now with the Chicago Bears, and the Redskins’ Trent Robinson assisted the young males in their fashion quest.
Celebrity shopper and former Mrs. Maryland 2011 Sandra Bryan-Grier donated 73 gowns, 15 pairs of shoes, 25 pairs of earrings, 15 new adhesive bras, and 13 purses from SanSan Closet, her non-profit organization.
“[Going to the] prom is [the beginning of] crossing over to adulthood so it’s important for them [students] to have that experience,” she said. “It’s important for them to go and think back. It’s a memory that’s long-lasting.”
Once Upon a Prom founder Jackie Johnson said she was amazed by the continuous support received this year, and every year. To assist the young gentlemen financially, Men’s Warehouse offered tuxedo rentals at $59.99, discounted from their regularly priced $150 to $180 rentals.
While the anxious teens shopped with their celebrity shopper, their parents received giveaways and free blood pressure, body mass index and diabetes screenings courtesy of MedStar and Chi Eta Phi nursing sorority. They also enjoyed the sounds of harpist and singer Tulani, who has toured with Lady Gaga.
Colleges and universities including the University of District of Columbia, Georgetown and Trinity were also on hand, urging students to consider enrolling into college and discussing life after the prom.