Not every girl gets the chance to feel like a princess for prom.
Prom dresses can cost hundreds of dollars, making them an out-of-reach expense for some families, according to Amy Jones, founder of The Heart of Giving Inc., a non-profit organization that provides donated prom dresses to young women who cannot afford them.
“It’s amazing to see many young girls cry because they didn’t think they would get the chance to be beautiful,” Jones said.
At an annual gathering called The Heart of a Princess, as many as 150 girls come out and find a prom dress for free. This year’s event will be at at the World Outreach Worship Center in Newport News on April 7.
Jones saw the need for this kind of event after meeting a young woman in 2011 in Oak Harbor, Wash., who was homeless and didn’t have the resources to feel beautiful in a dress at her prom.
The ‘fairy godmother’ of Hampton Roads
The organization began in 2011, when Jones lived in Washington, and moved with her to Newport News in 2012. Now, The Heart of Giving serves young women from Hampton Roads, including Virginia Beach, Williamsburg, York County and Poquoson.
“It’s about being able to be able to touch these girls in their most moment of need,” Jones said. “They need to know that their community cares enough to help them feel beautiful. To help them feel like a princess.”
Each year, Jones and volunteers set up a boutique-style setting for nearly 2,000 donated prom dresses.
Young women come with their families. They try on gowns, eat hors d’oeuvres and work with their own personal shoppers. Jones even supplies professional photographers, on-site seamstresses and goody bags with gift certificates for nail salons and hairdressers.
“Amy takes care of everything for these girls,” said Dyan Gurley, a volunteer. “She is really like a fairy godmother.”
That moment when a girl feels beautiful
But it isn’t all dresses and snacks. Jones has more than 30 volunteers and they work year-round to collect donations, including shoes and jewelry.
Before the event, volunteers pull the dresses from a storage unit, steam them, hang them and organize them by size, according to Gurley. It can be a big undertaking, Gurley said, especially since there’s no year-round location to serve as a headquarters for their efforts.
“We are really hoping and praying that a space will pull through for us, but right now we just don’t know,” Jones said.
Jones also hopes to find a location for the Friday before the event, as well as a year-round place where girls could come find dresses for homecoming or other events. Currently, the prom event is the only time when young women can choose a donated dress, according to Jones.
The Heart of Giving is also looking for more donations of plus-size dresses.
“As a personal shopper, you sometimes have to work with girls with low self-esteem,” Gurley said. “But just to see their faces transform when they finally feel beautiful in a gown is a pure joy.”
Heart of a Princess will be held from 12-4 p.m. on April 7. Dresses can still be donated; for more information about how to register, how to volunteer, or how to donate, visit the website for The Heart of Giving.
“Anyone that comes out and sees this— it will put a smile on their face,” Gurley said. “It’s going to be beautiful.”