SEAT PLEASANT –With the arrival of spring comes warm weather, longer days, green leaves – and prom. This year, Prince George’s native Alesha Wilson held her second annual “Once Upon a Gown” event to help students find and take home their perfect formal outfit for free. “It’s really a shopping day experience that they’ll be […]
SEAT PLEASANT –With the arrival of spring comes warm weather, longer days, green leaves – and prom. This year, Prince George’s native Alesha Wilson held her second annual “Once Upon a Gown” event to help students find and take home their perfect formal outfit for free.
“It’s really a shopping day experience that they’ll be able to enjoy at no cost, no cost at all,” Wilson said. “Hopefully they get to go home with something they enjoy and feel good about, and can then go to their prom or their special occasion or their 8th grade dance.”
More than 120 middle and high school students from the Washington, D.C. area browsed through the clothing and accessory options in the “showroom” during the event on March 17 at the Seat Pleasant Community Center. Wilson had collected more than 500 pieces of clothing, more than 100 pairs of shoes and about 200 pieces of accessories since October.
These outfits included lightly worn donations, brand-new dresses from local boutiques and retail stores and handmade ties and bowties.
Wilson also created a “Suit Suite” where students who preferred suits and tuxedos could try on outfits and learn about coordinating different colors, how to tie a tie or bow-tie and how to use cufflinks.
The event included raffle prizes for free services, such as hairstyling.
Wilnetta Thomas, a Laurel resident, brought her three daughters to Once Upon a Gown. All of them walked away with at least one dress, and two of her daughters found accessories and shoes to match.
Thomas called the event “the highlight of my day.”
“One thing that I liked about it was just to see the girls’ faces as they were trying on the dresses,” she said. “When they tried them on you could see how much they liked them. It kind of boosted their confidence, and made them really feel good about themselves and the way that they looked.”
She added that the event alleviated her stress as a parent of needing to shop for gowns and accessories for her daughters’ upcoming formal events.
Thomas described the volunteers as “instrumental in making the girls feel comfortable.”
The 60 volunteers escorted attendees through the showroom and offered free demonstrations on how to fashionably style hair and apply makeup while on a budget.
Kay-B Hart was one of these volunteers. Even as the D.J., she could see the impact of the event on the young people.
“It was nice to see all the ladies walk out with big smiles on their faces, because they were happy and relieved that they found something, since prom is right around the corner,” Hart said. “There were a couple of times when the girls would come out and actually walk on the runway because they were so confident in their dresses.”
Sandra Reed, who travelled to the event from Annapolis with her 16-year-old daughter, intends to join the volunteer ranks next year.
Reed said Once Upon a Gown was a “good eye-opener for people who may not have known that these types of events take place.”
“Sometimes people turn down big moments in their lives because they feel like they’re not prepared or they might not have the financial ability or access,” she said. “So, it’s nice that (Wilson) thought of those people.”
Wilson initiated the function in 2017 to fulfill a requirement for a certificate she was pursuing in event planning. She decided to make it an annual event after the positive feedback she received.
“It went so well last year, I said I have to do this again,” Wilson said.
She based Once Upon a Gown off a similar event she had volunteered at in Brooklyn. Wilson said she found that volunteer experience so fulfilling she wanted to share it with her home community.
“I have a talent and craft in organization and planning,” Wilson said. “I want to use what I know and what I’ve learned through my schooling to make it into not only a career, but to grow and to share that with someone else.
“I just hope I’m an example to the next generation to always give back to their community, because I’ve grown up here, I’ve met and been raised by so many great people in the community that I have to give back.”