Masada Johnson gazed at the excited teenagers probing the colorful explosion of floor-length dresses gathered just for them in preparation of their big day – prom. In another room, there were shoes and small handbags and other accessories, and they were all free to these girls who so desperately wanted to look just right on their special night.
Watching them reminded Johnson why she was there. “This opportunity is something my family and I would have definitely participated in if it was around when it was my time to go to the prom,” said Johnson, who manages the Family Matters of Washington’s Dresses4Dreams and Suited4Dreams program. The organization, a nationally accredited social service in the Washington metropolitan area, is dedicated to providing assistance to more than 12,000 children, youth, families and seniors.
Johnson didn’t go to her prom. Her family couldn’t afford the event that credit card issuer Visa reports as costing, on average, around $916. Johnson is a volunteer with the Family Matters of Washington to provide boys and girls the opportunity she didn’t have.
The organization’s Dresses4Dreams and Suited4Dreams program offered more than 200 free new and used prom dresses as well as suits and tuxedos to Washington students. Family Matters has held the boutique event for five years, donating prom dresses and suits to underprivileged District youth 14 years and older.
Jazmine Harris, 17, of McKinley Technology High School, was one of the students at the April 13 event. “When we got here, I was completely overwhelmed at the colors and options,” she said. “There were so many colors and textures. I couldn’t wait to touch them.”
If the girls struggled to find the right dress, there were professional stylists and local designers available to ensure they left with the right dress. Stylist Brandy Sims helped Harris find her dress, a strapless red garment with ruffles at the bottom.
Kia Thomas, the mother of two high school students, was also there. “My daughter found a beautiful red dress with feathers on the end that fits her like a glove,” Thomas said. “I will also be back for the Suited4Dreams event for my son tomorrow to pick out a tux.”
Jamari Jackson was one of about 20 boys who attended the Suited4Dreams April 14 event. Jackson, 17, a senior at Woodrow Wilson High School, said he owned only one suit until he picked out one at the event. Jackson hopes to go to Morehouse College, in Atlanta, to study economics. He said the suit will be a valuable asset. “This definitely helped me,” he said. “I can use this suit again for internships, interviews and going out.”
In addition to the suits, local companies donated five free tuxedo rentals, that were won by five young men. All the male attendees received a coupon for a 40 percent discount on a tuxedo rental from Men’s Warehouse.
In 2015, only nine young men attended the event. This year the number almost doubled with 17 attendees leaving with at least a new suit jacket. While the Suited4Dreams event is focused on providing attire for prom, many of the young men end up reusing their suits for a variety of events.
Attendees of the workshops were also eligible to win to free professional hairstyling and grooming services. Dresses4Dreams also provided an opportunity to enter their name in a raffle to win a special prize – a custom-made dress and accessories by local designer William Henry Rawls.
Kelly Lee, 17, a student at Phelps Architecture, Construction and Engineering High School, won the raffle. “The crazy part is I’ve had this cut out of my dream design from a magazine since I was a very little girl,” she said. “This is great because I knew my family couldn’t afford to get me a custom-made dress. It was just a dream, and now it can be a reality.”