On Easter weekend, racks upon racks of shimmery, silky, sleek prom formalwear were rolled onto the Saguaro High School parking lot.
For two days, nearly 150 students came through to pick up their dress, suit, shoes and accessories of choice free of charge.
The event – the first of its kind for Scottsdale Unified School District – was called Project Prom and the organizer of the event, Governing Board member Patty Beckman, was thrilled with the turnout.
“It was a labor of love for everyone involved,” Beckman said.
Project Prom featured more than 1,500 dresses and about 40 pieces of men’s wear, accessories, and shoes.
The clothes and accessories came from a formalwear drive held last spring and organized by a group of parents, teachers, the Scottsdale Education Association and the Scottsdale Parent Council.
“Last March, when our schools moved abruptly online, prom was canceled,” Beckman explained. “However, I still had individuals contacting me wanting to donate formalwear. Over the course of the last year, 1,000 more dresses were donated. Many of the dresses and accessories came from boutiques/stores that closed due to the pandemic.”
Beckman and her family cared for the clothing, spending the past year cleaning, mending, hanging and tagging all of the donated dresses.
“My husband put together racks and my daughters created hang tags with sizes for each dress,” she said. “Even my sweet mother took a break from sewing masks and instead focused on fixing zippers and reinforcing spaghetti straps.”
Project Prom was inspired by the Paradise Valley Education Association, who took to social media to post about a recycled formalwear event.
Beckman loved the idea and immediately reached out to the teachers and parents to gauge their interest in hosting their own formalwear event.
“As always, our students were incredibly appreciative and respectful,” Beckman said of the response to Project Prom. “The students and parents that attended were courteous and handled the formal wear with care.
“It is also worth noting that everyone wore masks and took our COVID risk mitigation measures seriously.”
Beckman and her team of volunteers wanted to host the event to help Scottsdale families in need.
“Prom can be out of reach for some of our students, as we have many families living in poverty. A new dress alone can cost hundreds of dollars; and when you add in a suit or tux rental, the prom ticket, transportation, and a meal, the cost can be extraordinary. Many students simply won’t go,” Beckman said.
“If we can help by eliminating some of the financial stress by offering free formal wear, these children are able to participate in one of high school’s most memorable rites of passage,” she continued.
While final details are still being worked out for each of SUSD’s five high schools’ celebrations, two proms are scheduled for late April and the other three in May, according to Acting Public Information & Marketing Officer Nancy Norman.
Assistant Superintendent Dr. Milissa Sackos said proms will be held at venues selected by each school’s students where mitigation can mirror what is currently in place in schools.
“This includes allowing proms to be scheduled with enhanced mitigation strategies and planning for in-person graduation ceremonies, with some restrictions on the number of attendees to allow for physical distancing while also ensuring the Class of 2021 has a graduation experience that is in-person,” Superintendent Dr. Scott Menzel wrote parents.
Many students are ready, thanks to Project Prom.
“The SUSD community is passionate, loyal, hardworking and fiercely proud of its students. This event was a success because of those attributes,” said Beckman, who hopes to host Project Prom next spring, too.
“Words cannot express how heartwarming it was to watch our students smile as they picked out and tried on the free formal wear. It was very emotional to see each student carefully pick out a dress or suit and feel special,” she said.
“Working together, we can eliminate equity issues for our students and make wonderful high school memories, one prom at a time."