Prom season is fast approaching, hours will be spent searching for the perfect dress to wear and the hunt for the accessories to go with it. To get the perfect look is often very expensive and not in everyone’s budget. For a family struggling financially, the expenses associated with dressing for the prom are not a possibility. Twenty-five years ago Diana O’Neill heard of one such situation, and immediately sprung into action.
Diana was doing volunteer work at a Catholic Church in Roosevelt, New York. A mother walked into the Parish Outreach office and Diana overheard her dilemma. The mother explained that her daughter needed a gown for the prom, but that she could not afford it. Diana said “I know where her daughter can get a dress and all her friends too!”
Diana was a member of The Junior League, “a women’s volunteer organization with a goal of identifying a community’s most urgent needs and address them with meaningful and relevant programs.” The Junior League of Long Island has a Thrift Shop in Roslyn, New York. Diana’s idea was to empty the shop of all its dressy dresses, high heels, evening bags, shawls, jewelry and racks, and created a “Pop Up Boutique” in the church’s school gym. Parish Outreach contacted the Guidance Department at Roosevelt High School, who referred thirty-five girls in financial need to attend what later would be called the Prom Boutique.
Over the years Prom Boutique has evolved into an enormous charitable, volunteer and donor driven initiative, uniting members of the community to help thousands of young women attend their prom. In 1999 The Junior League of Long Island officially turned over the Prom Boutique to the Long Island Volunteer Center. The Fashion and Marketing Department at Nassau Community College has been working in conjunction with LIVC, and hosts the event on its’ campus.
“Currently donated prom gowns and accessories are distributed by invitation only and are provided free of charge to girls of families across Long Island who cannot easily absorb the expense of a new gown for their prom, awards ceremony, or graduation. All the girls are confidentially referred by at-risk youth agencies, group homes, high school guidance counselors and church outreach leaders.”
The entire operation is an amazing undertaking. To date sixty-one Prom Boutique events have been held and over 25,000 gowns have been given away. It takes an army of volunteers to collect, transport, store, organize, arrange and set up for the Boutique, with much of the work being very labor intensive.
On the actual day of the Boutique, volunteer personal shoppers work one on one for an hour per shopper. Each young lady selects a gown, a pair of shoes, a handbag, wrap and jewelry. Volunteer seamstresses are on site tirelessly making alterations on the spot. As each invited attendee leaves with her outfit complete, she is also given a gift bag of cosmetics courtesy of Estee Lauder.
The night before this year’s Prom Boutique was quite special. A reception was held to acknowledge the twenty-five year journey of Prom Boutique and the various committee members, volunteers and generous donors who made it possible. Diana O’Neil was present and offered a heartfelt speech about the difference Prom Boutique has made for the young women who have attended, and for all those who have helped. Diana believes volunteering is a privilege and that everything we do to help others does make a difference. In Diana’s closing, she read this poem, which is quite appropriate and inspiring (click the link below to read the poem).