Free prom dresses help fulfill dreams
Angela Rose-O'Brien thinks prom should not cause anxiety for those high school students who can't afford to celebrate.
The Unity woman founded Angela's Angels in 2006 to collect new and gently used prom gowns and accessories and give them free of charge, complete with a fitting and alterations, to any girl who is economically disadvantaged.
“Our rule is if they come and they ask, then we give it to them,” O'Brien said. “What we've learned is we can never judge anybody or their circumstances.”
About 1,700 gowns are on display for potential promgoers at the space used by Angela's Angels, a 501(c)3 nonprofit, in Latrobe's Quatrini-Rafferty building.
In addition to the generosity of local bridal shops that donate gowns, O'Brien has been grateful for the popularity of individual dress donations and local businesses participating as drop-off sites.
Kathy Hendrickson, owner of Wigs 'N More at 5924 Route 981 in Unity, said she has enjoyed contributing to Angela's Angels, knowing the organization helps recipients combat the difficult peer pressure and self-image struggles sometimes faced by high schoolers.
“These are teenagers that have dreams ... of looking their best and feeling their best,” she said.
In advance of Greater Latrobe, Derry Area and Ligonier Valley's proms — all planned for May 9 — the store has gotten many donations, including an answer to the call for donations for dresses above size 20, Hendrickson said.
“It's very important to us to address everyone's needs,” O'Brien said.
Just as when the staff assists customers at Wigs 'N More, which sells bras and other garments for women who have received treatment for breast cancer, Hendrickson said, by helping girls improve their self-image, they hope to improve their overall well-being. “You've just got to have a big heart to give and volunteer your time,” she said.
The fitting area on Ligonier Street in Latrobe has mirrors and a pedestal, just like in a gown shop, so visitors can bask in their finery.
A few years ago, one dress recipient from Angela's Angels was chosen as a local high school's prom queen, O'Brien said, but only the volunteers knew where she got her dress.
“Everything that we do is anonymous,” she said. “We never want anyone to feel uncomfortable.”
Some recipients pass on the generosity, returning the dresses after prom night for use by another girl.
With every girl served comes a time to reflect on difficult times, but the opportunity to shine also stirs a lot of pride, O'Brien said.
“We do a lot of laughing and crying every single time, every single year,” she said.
Stacey Federoff is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-836-6660.