Project Prom Helps Provide High School Students Free Prom Attire
by James Coulter
On Saturday morning, countless customers flocked to Lakeland Square Mall in search of new deals. One store in particular drew in countless high school-aged customers who perused its racks for dresses and suits.
So many customers did this store draw in that the line to the dressing room stretched all the way to the store’s entrance and even poured out into the mall itself. The best part of all? None of these customers paid a single dime for their new clothes. Not even a single penny. It was all free.
For the seventh year in a row, Project Prom of Polk County offered free dresses and suits to local high school students for their upcoming high school prom. The non-profit organization opened their Lakeland location in Lakeland Square Mall with a ribbon cutting ceremony hosted by the Lakeland Chamber of Commerce on Saturday morning.
The ceremony featured a ribbon cutting by Lakeland Mayor Bill Muntz along with light refreshments provided by Chik-Fil-A, which included fruit cups, chicken finger sandwiches, and orange juice.
The store, located within the former Sears wing of the mall, features formal wear including dresses, suits, shows, and other accessories provided through generous donations from the local community. The store’s formal attire is free and available for any local high school student, provided that they sign a pledge to avoid any risky behavior during prom night including drugs and alcohol.
The store and program itself is organized by local high school student volunteers affiliated with the UthMpact Coalition and InnerAct Alliance.
Julia Norman, 18, a senior from Lakeland High School, has been serving as a volunteer for the past two years, and currently serves as its chair.
“I am amazed about how many people are here,” she said. “We have a ton of women trying on dresses. The line for the dressing room is out of the door, so it is a super good turnout in my opinion.”
Being able to see so many of her fellow high school students walk away happy with new clothes for prom makes her volunteer work all the more worthwhile, and she hopes that the new volunteers that they are training will continue to do their good work, she said.
“I enjoy making the girls and guys happy that they are eligible to find something that they love and they feel comfortable and confident in wearing around their peers to the prom, and they can get it for free for agreeing not to get involved in risky behavior that could jeopardize their future,” she said.
Michael Shaw, 14, a freshman from Lake Gibson High School, recently started volunteering for Project Prom, wanting to take an opportunity through the UthMpact Coalition to help make a difference within his community.
While helping manage a small store for a large crowd proves challenging, such a challenge proves rewarding if it means seeing other people leave happy with new prom clothes, he said.
“I would say that everyone is much satisfied and things are going on pretty well,” he said. “I enjoy seeing the smile on people’s face as they walk in and being able to get their dresses and suits.”
Project Prom’s Facebook page features many photos and testimonials from local high school students and their families who had the opportunity to attend prom in dignity and grace thanks to the clothes provide by its store.
One especially inspiring story includes a young lady with Aicardi syndrome, a rare genetic disorder that affects the corpus callosum, the part of the brain that keeps the two sides together. Her mother posted a picture of her dressed in her new dress as she sat within her wheelchair, happy to be able to wear something nice for her prom later that year.
“She was so excited that we found her prom dress,” her mother wrote. “I never know which prom could be her last so I always want to make sure it’s as magical as it can be!”
Project Prom of Polk County will be offering prom attire again on March 9 from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m., and on March 23 and April 6 from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. The store is located within Lakeland Square Mall, located at 3800 US Hwy 98 N, Lakeland, FL 33809.
For more information, visit their website at: https://www.projectprompolk.com/