If we were to play a little free association, and you asked me to say the first thing that "December" brings to mind, I probably wouldn't say Christmas, yuletide greetings, or chestnuts roasting by an open fire. My brain, at least since 2007, thinks "prom."
Every year in December, seventeen.com launches prom content -- quizzes, videos, a huge Dress Finder -- because SeventeenPROM and TeenPROM magazines hit newsstands the day after Christmas. Winter break is prime time for planning the perfect prom outfit, and Google searches for "prom dresses" climb.
If you consider proms to be too extravagant and debaucherous these days (revealing dresses, underage drinking, hooking up), then 10 bucks says I can change your mind. Because I believe in the power of teen girls, and if you can inspire her to rock the prom, you can inspire her to rock the world.
It all starts with donated dresses. As editor of DonateMyDress.org for Hearst Digital Media, I manage a network of nearly 100 dress drives nationwide, where young women can go to donate or receive free dresses. When we started DonateMyDress.org in April 2008, I thought it would just be a static directory of dress drives. I was wrong. Today, DonateMyDress.org is one of the most dynamic projects I work on, a year-long conversation with chapter leaders, teenagers in need, interested donors, and corporate supporters.
What I've learned is that for every donated dress, there is so much potential hidden in the confidence it gives the recipient and the joy it gives the donor. This can be hard to notice individually, but when I look at the big picture nationally, I begin to notice the impact.
- Girls who receive donated dresses are so grateful, they later pay it forward to keep the giving circle going. A girl who received a donated dress from The Fairy Godmother Project of Houston never forgot the good deed. She wrote them, "Now that I have finished college and am a successful businesswoman, I have seized the opportunity to return the love and acceptance that this organization provided me." Another girl who accepted a dress from Cinderella's Closet for her junior prom pledged that she would donate the senior prom dress she was saving up for to another girl afterward.
If high school girls can rally their friends to donate dresses, what if we show them that in college, they can collect as little as $5 from each person in their dorm and together sponsor a girl's education in Africa for a year? For the She's the First campaign, which I created independently of Hearst, we just tested this idea with Welsh Family Hall at the University of Notre Dame. The residents made it possible for Viola, an 11-year-old girl born and raised during the Liberian civil war, to finish K2 this year. It's a late start for an 11-year-old, but better than none at all.
Now, that's the true beauty of dress donation: Whether you give or you get, you discover dresses are just the beginning. Because once you rock the prom, you can rock the world.