The Gathering of Women, Inc. is holding its 2014 Princess Prom Dress Drive to help make sure no young woman goes without a beautiful gown for her high school prom.
The nonprofit organization has rented a space at the Skyway Mall, 4301 34th St. S, to house a varied selection of formal dresses for young women who cannot afford them. All a young woman needs to do is come in and ask them to provide a dress for her.
“It’s that simple,” confirmed Samantha Richardson, president of the Gathering of Women. “A young girl came to us one day and wanted to know whether she could get a prom dress,” she said, relating how the annual drive first began back in 2006, “but she couldn’t afford to buy one. And that’s what started the drive. From then on we began to ask the public to donate dresses to us to provide to young women.”
To get the word out to teens, Richardson and Ava Deveaux, the secretary of the organization, have sent fliers to the principals and guidance counselors of high schools in the area. They’ve also appealed to local businesses to help the students out with other elements of a perfect prom night.
“The flowers, the limo, the hairdressers. Those things are essential too for a young lady graduating from high school and going to her prom,” Richardson said. “So we try to get vendors to help us out.”
There are prom gowns of all shapes, styles and colors so finding just the right one shouldn’t be a problem. But if there’s a special circumstance where a young lady needs an alteration, Richardson said there is a seamstress at their sister organization, Belle of the Ball in Seminole, that may help with that.
She mentioned that they are also accepting donations of jewelry, accessories, scarves, purses and even shoes. And every Saturday from March 22 to May 3 between 10-2 p.m., they will showcase several of the dresses outside their mall space, “sidewalk sale” fashion.
Not to say they have forgotten the young men. Through a partnership with Sacino’s, the Gathering of Women can help male students headed to the prom get a discount on formal wear.
“If a young man comes in and says ‘I can’t even afford a discount,’ we have a relationship where they will probably provide a free tuxedo to some of the young men,” Richardson said.
This drive is only one of several services the Gathering of Women, with its 25 registered members, provides for the community. Others include the Essay Writing Workshops, where professional writers help students master the skills of college application essays; the Roger and Renee Education Scholarship Award, which are based on area high school students’ academic, artistic and athletic abilities as well as other factors; the Christmas Wonderland, an annual party held at the Harbordale YMCA for underprivileged children; and the Men & Women of Distinction Awards, upcoming on Apr. 13, to honor people who generally work behind the scenes in contributing to the community.
Both longtime residents of St. Pete and mothers of three, Richardson and Deveaux know the importance of a positive male role model in a young man’s life and are excited about the Man Camp, the organization’s mentoring program for boys and young men, ages 9-24.
“We encourage men from the community to come in and talk to young boys, help them with their education, so that the drop-out rate won’t be so high in our area,” Richardson said. “We’re planning an outdoors activity, we’re thinking about hopefully going to Raymond James Center, having lunch, and maybe meeting some of the Rays.”
Deveaux added that the mentors teach even basic life skills that every young man should know.
“They taught the kids how to tie a tie, and that was real exciting to them because some had never, ever done it before,” she said.
With such varied projects, the organization is always looking for members.
“We’re a group of women from different walks of life, different nationalities, different professions,” Richardson stated. “We came together to give support to each other, and from that we began to do the outreach.”
It is clear they both feel fortunate to help young people in any way they can, be it with a prom dress, a party or valuable guidance.
“Live, love, learn and serve others,” Deveaux said, summing up her philosophy in life. “I’m a servant to the community and I love it.”
Richardson added: “When I taught on a regular basis, I used to tell children they need to gain what they can, because what you’re gaining now will lead to your future. In essence, do all that you can,” she said. “The only thing that’s between you and your dream is reluctance.”
Contact the Gathering of Women at (727) 433-1352 or firstname.lastname@example.org.