Prom Bring It founder and president Jenny High (center) with volunteers Gianna High and Malik Shaw outside Diversity Thrift (photo by Bonnie Newman Davis)
Perched on the dining room’s mahogany serving chest is a photo of my daughter, Erin Stanley, and her date, both decked out for their high school prom.
It’s hard to believe that it was 11 years ago when Erin and I drove to Northern Virginia to shop for the strapless teal-and-yellow chiffon dress that she’s wearing in the photo. Marcus Carter, Erin’s former beau and prom date, sports a classic black tuxedo. Their smiles are sweetly perfect, as they should be for one of the most anticipated events during high school.
As the founder and president of Prom Bring It, a nonprofit organization that provides free prom clothing for high school students, Jenny High believes that proms provide more than a chance to dress, dance and pose in fancy pants and frocks. Proms go a long way in boosting confidence and self-esteem, says High, especially for those students who don’t always stand out in school or feel good about themselves.
She should know. In 2011, High’s son, William, then a student at Hermitage High School in Henrico County, told his mother about one of his friends who didn’t have money for prom clothing.
For High, who was active in Hermitage’s Parent-Teacher-Student Association, the message was clear. “What are you going to do about it?” her son asked.
Within weeks High, a banking systems engineer, had rounded up sponsors that included a local dry cleaners and retail establishments such as Macy’s, Sears and Men’s Wearhouse to donate items for students in need. Her son’s friend went to his prom and had a ball. A year later, in 2012, Prom Bring It assisted about 450 students.
“Kids came from everywhere, including Northern Virginia and North Carolina, to select clothing,” at Hermitage High School and Handcraft Cleaners’ drop-off points,” says High. Added to the mix were jewelry, makeup, shoes and other prom necessities.
Prom Bring It also forged stronger ties within High’s own family. Her father, Rafael Concepcion, was a Prom Bring It board member, and her son, now 21 and in the U.S. Air Force, gained valuable communication skills helping his mother build the organization.
The 2014 death of High’s father, who was hit by a car in Florida, took a toll on her, and she lost interest in coordinating Prom Bring It events. Yet, community members still continue to benefit from locations where they can donate and/or obtain donated clothing and other items. Those sites include J.R. Tucker High School (contact Marsha Mason), North Avenue Library (contact Dianne Wilmore), and Yolanda’s Dominican Hair Salon. Call in advance to schedule a time to select clothing.
This year Prom Bring It is hosting a special event. From noon to 5 p.m. today, the organization will host an expo at Diversity Thrift’s event hall. There, youth may select prom attire donated by Diversity Thrift and consult with hair and makeup professionals. Guitarist, pianist and vocalist Tyler Layne is scheduled to appear, along with Jonna Scott-Blakes, a blogger and founder of Naturally Glam.
“Diversity Thrift has allowed us to come every week and select from its donations,” says High, who hopes to serve 200 or more students, including those who are LGBT and special needs. “They have also donated space for the event.”
Beyond the expo, Prom Bring It will expand its services to offer seminars and workshops about etiquette and personal relationships, resume writing, job and interview skills and other tools necessary for personal and professional success, High says.
Recalling her own prom in Philadelphia, High describes it as “a nightmare.” Her parents, of Cuban and Lebanese descent, didn’t buy into the American practice of proms, she says.
“I begged my dad to allow me to go and when he finally gave in I only made it to the after party,” she recalls. “I made my own outfit, and it poured outside.”
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