From Dresses to Dreams

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Nearly 200 high school girls in the greater Boston area will be able to attend prom this spring thanks to the hard work of a group of dedicated Bentley students.

For the past 10 years, student organization Dresses to Dreams has been giving free prom dresses, shoes and accessories to girls who would otherwise not be able to afford them. The recipients choose their dresses at the program’s annual daylong event. They also get hair and makeup tutorials and participate in a fashion show where girls model their new dresses.

This year’s event took place on Saturday, February 13 at the LaCava Conference Center. The girls and their parents braved negative-30-degree temperatures to attend.

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More Than Dresses
The event is about so much more than trying on dresses. It also integrates empowering messages from Bentley students and faculty members.

“The fact that we can have such a positive impact on girls in this one day is so amazing,” says Amanda McCormick ‘17, Dresses to Dreams’ co-president. “They’re gaining confidence.”

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Each year, Claudette Blot of Bentley’s Multicultural Center runs a session called “Beautiful Betty,” during which she discusses women’s empowerment, confidence and being yourself.

Professor Donna Blancero from the management department also spoke at this year’s event, discussing life after high school and the options of attending college or going straight into the workforce.

 

A Growing Organization
Dresses to Dreams, now run out of the Center for Women and Business at Bentley, began as a small women’s empowerment group. It currently has more than 40 members.

At first, only about 10 to 40 girls received prom dresses through the program. That number has swelled to close to 200 per year, as word has spread and donations have increased. Contributions come from Bentley students, boutiques in Massachusetts and Connecticut, and organizations (including a large one called GiftsToGive). This year, about 800 dresses were donated.

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Abby Eisner ‘18, a member of Dresses to Dreams’ executive board, was drawn to the program because of her work mentoring middle school and high school girls via The Prism Project at Bentley, which works with girls at community centers on self-esteem.

“I’ve met many students who don’t get the same opportunities that I’ve been so blessed to have,” she says. “I wanted to share those opportunities with them and help empower them.”

Her favorite Dresses to Dreams moment, she recalls, was donating her own prom dress and watching the girl who chose it model it in the fashion show.

“I had a connection to that dress, and seeing another girl wear it was really exciting,” Eisner says. “She was so happy, and she looked absolutely beautiful.”

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Learning While Giving
McCormick and Eisner say the skills they have learned in the classroom at Bentley are a big help when it comes to planning the Dresses to Dreams event.

“We utilize a lot of event-planning skills and promotion skills,” says McCormick, a marketing major.

Eisner, whose major is Information Design and Corporate Communication, cites the leadership and communication skills she has learned at Bentley as also being a big help.

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But the students are also learning many skills as they volunteer in the program. By cold-calling dress boutiques and food establishments to secure donations for the event, they’re learning how to communicate with companies and to “sell” themselves. They’re also building valuable management and organizational skills that will help them in their future careers.

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Read more on why it’s important to learn how to sell.

But McCormick and Eisner say those lessons are small compared to the huge reward of making such a positive impact on other females. That impact is evident in the responses they receive from the girls and their parents after the event.

“One of the moms said that everything that was discussed at the event were things that she wanted for her daughter, and that she was so happy her daughter was able to hear them,” says Eisner. “A lot of the girls actually said that the event made them see the value in college and that they hope to come to Bentley.”

To learn more about Dresses to Dreams, visit the group’s Facebook page or follow them on Twitter at @Dresses2Dreams.

 

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Jennifer Marino Walters is a Washington, D.C.-based writer whose work has been published in the Los Angeles Times, Scholastic magazines, Care.com and more. She blogs at Double Duty Twins.