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Dresses for volunteers: Local event offers prom dresses to students who volunteer

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Chi-Hi prom

Chippewa Falls Senior High School students celebrated their prom in 2016 with the theme “Memorable Nights Under City Lights.”

A conversation — one about the formal dresses collecting dust instead of memories in their closets — inspired Jennifer Rooney of Chippewa Falls and Liz Poteete to begin Once Upon a Prom to help ease the financial burden that can sometimes accompany one of high school’s most well-known events.

Now in its seventh year, Once Upon a Prom will host its annual shopping days April 7-8 at Professional Hair Design Academy in Eau Claire. The day consists of volunteer “personal shoppers” who help high school students find the perfect dress, shoes, a purse and jewelry to match, and a hair and make-up tutorial, which students can recreate on the day of prom, Rooney said.

“It’s been really cool. We’ve certainly had some tears and girls who’ve never even had a dress on before. One girl said she felt like a princess, and it’s those kinds of moments that make it all worthwhile,” Rooney said.

All the students have to pay? Six hours of their time in the community.

The program operates on an honor system, Rooney said, asking those who use Once Upon a Prom for services to list out a description of what they did in the community and for how long they did it.

Organizers, including new addition Stephanie Bauer, ask that students complete their service hours before the event, but exceptions can be made for students who hear about the event too late, or are scheduled to work in the community at a later date.

While prom is still a month away at Chi-Hi, math teacher and prom advisor Lynne Tilus said the opportunity for students to receive assistance with prom funding can be beneficial to some students.

“It’s nice for our girls to be able to get a dress and go to their prom and not have the financial burden of it,” Tilus said.

Tilus was hopeful that more students would feel encouraged to sign up for the event.

Chi-Hi’s prom, “Northern Lights,” is scheduled for April 28, Tilus said.

Girls, families and others who might be nervous in receiving a dress in exchange for community service work or in attending the event are invited to bring a parent or a friend, Rooney said, adding that the event is all about the enjoyment of searching for — and finding — that perfect dress.

“It’s great fun; I think the girls walk out of there and they have a good time,” Rooney said. “It’s easy, shouldn’t be intimidating at all.”

Clean and ready-to-wear donations can still be made at drop-off locations, Rooney said. Those locations include the Boys and Girls Clubs in Chippewa Falls and Eau Claire, William’s Diamond Center, Plato’s Closet, Lasker Jewelers, Memorial and North high schools in Eau Claire and the Eau Claire YMCA.

Volunteers who wish to help at the event can also sign up for a few remaining slots online at Shoppers and interested students should also apply online.


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