ShareThis Page

Project Prom allows Allegheny County teens to enjoy fancy night

| Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2014, 9:00 p.m.
Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
Asia Creighton, 25, of Verona, an event and donations team intern for Project Prom, and Brendan Hanschen, 28, of Mt. Washington, an event and donations coordinator for Project Prom, hang dresses on the racks on Tuesday at the not-for-profit's storefront in Century III Mall.
Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
Brendan Hanschen, 28, of Mt. Washington, an event and donations coordinator for Project Prom, hangs dresses on the racks at the not-for-profit's storefront in Century III Mall, Tuesday. Project Prom provides quality, free prom dresses, accessories and more to teens who receive services from the Department of Human Services.
Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
A mannequin displays a dress at Project Prom's storefront in Century III Mall, Tuesday. Project Prom provides quality, free prom dresses, accessories and more to teens who receive services from the Department of Human Services.

Going to a prom isn't cheap.

Spending to prepare for and attend the annual spring dance for high school upperclassmen increased by 5 percent nationally to an average of $1,139 per family between 2012 and 2013, according to a 2013 survey by Visa, Inc. In the Northeast, including Pennsylvania, the average cost for attire, limo rental, prom tickets and other items was $1,528.

That can make attending prom a difficult thing for teens in many families, particularly those from low-income homes or other challenging backgrounds.

For that reason, the Allegheny County Department of Human Services in 2003 started Project Prom, which gives free, donated formal gowns and accessories to teen girls who are served by the agency or meet other eligibility criteria, said Ondrea Burton, manager of events and donations for the agency.

Project Prom has grown, and the program's goal this year is to give dresses to between 400 and 500 teens, Burton said. More volunteers are needed to serve as personal stylists for girls as they try on dresses and accessories, and more donations of plus-size dresses are needed, she said.

Three years ago, the program expanded with Project Prom for Gentleman, in which 100 teen boys register to attend an etiquette workshop and receive vouchers for free tuxedo rentals.

“The prom can be so expensive that it can be out of reach for many girls,” said Tanya Mallory, who volunteers as a personal stylist at the Project Prom Shop in Century III mall in West Mifflin.

Mallory is the director of operations and programs at Dress for Success Pittsburgh, which provides work attire and career development tools for disadvantaged women.

“Well, it's very similar to our program in that it provides opportunities and items to women and girls who might not otherwise have them,” Mallory said of Project Prom.

The program needs more male mentors for the Project Prom for Gentlemen event, which will take place on April 10 at the Herberman Conference Center at UPMC Shadyside.

For that event, the teen boys are asked to arrive on time and wear shirts with collars and pants with a belt, Burton said. The volunteer mentors teach the boys how to tie ties and a certified etiquette coach teaches dining and other etiquette topics, Burton said.

The Project Prom for Gentlemen participants are mostly boys served by the Department of Human Services or those who have immediate family members served by the agency, Burton said.

“They are so respectful, and they really take it seriously. But they also have a good time and the mentors that come also have a good time, so it's just really awesome. We're really excited about this year,” she said.

The Project Prom gown giveaway for eligible girls will be from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. March 15 and from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. March 17 to 20 at the Project Prom shop in Century III. Participants must bring proof of eligibility and valid student identification. Also, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. March 29, anyone can buy a dress at the store; nothing is priced over $25 during the public sale.

Proceeds from the public sale are used to buy plus-size dresses and tuxedo rental vouchers, Burton said.

Project Prom is open to teen girls whose parents or guardians receive unemployment benefits, assistance from food pantries and/or utility payment assistance.

Girls who qualify for free or reduced-price lunches at school and those who are children of active or retired military personnel are eligible, too.

Staff writer Tory N. Parrish can be reached at

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.