Nancy Rodriguez, professor for iCLU, is making prom more affordable for Ventura County high school students.
Rodriguez is one of the founding members of the Prom Dress Project, an organization that helps girls find affordable prom dresses.
“We started to look for things or ways to help people out. We had a friend who’s actually a counselor at Pacifica High School and she had been recycling prom dresses,” Rodriguez said.
A group of friends organized the first collection for the Prom Dress Project in 2009, right around the time the market crashed after they heard about Pacifica High School’s Ariel Closet, according to Rodriguez.
“They were collecting dresses for their high school students there as well, so we decided to help,” Diana Trinh, co-founder of the Prom Dress Project said.
Trinh heard about the project from Rodriguez when they worked together on the United Way’s Young Leaders Society council. While on the board, Rodriguez and Trinh organized and awarded scholarships to high school students who participated in events and workshops throughout a given year.
Once Rodriguez and Trinh decided to take on this project, Rodriguez used her radio show to reach out to a wider group of donors.
“At that time I was working at Q-104.7, I was hosting mornings, so I kind of used that outlet to kind of spread the word, so I kind of turned that little project into a county-wide thing,” Rodriguez said.
In the first year of the project, 200 dresses were collected and donated to Ariel Closet at PHS. However, they noticed some girls were reluctant to come and try on the dresses.
“That’s when we created the fitting event. Then we kind of turned that into another event in itself,” Rodriguez said.
Following the dress drive an annual event takes place to showcase all things needed for prom season. The next event will be hosted at Fillmore High School, according to Rodriguez.
“That first year was a little slow. We got over 200 dresses but we were left over with a lot of them because, again, it was just getting the girls to come in and try on the dresses. The second year we kind of did it again and we just kind of pitched it a little different,” Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez has collected anywhere from 200 to 600 dresses in each year of the project.
The Prom Dress Project does more than just dresses. It provides tuxedo rentals, accessories and raffles for other prom expenses such as manicures and hair appointments.
“High school students would come and look at the dresses and we would have a DJ and prizes and giveaways and things like that,” Trinh said.
One year, a girl and her best friend came to the event and found everything for her prom look, including shoes and accessories. She was also the recipient of a hair and makeup raffle, essentially getting most of her prom night expenses covered, according to Rodriguez.
Kassidy Hansen, former music director for iCLU, recalled Rodriguez’s excitement for the project and desire to reach out to California Lutheran University students to get more donations.
“The fact that there’s a resource for them to be able to get such a nice dress is awesome,” Hansen said.
While the main goal of the Prom Dress Project is to reuse dresses, it is also about caring for every member of the community and giving back to those who may not have as many resources as others.
“I think just being mindful of where we live and who’s around us is important,” Trinh said.
The Prom Dress Project is currently accepting donations. If you would like to donate a dress, email Nancy Rodriguez at [email protected]
Published February 11, 2015