NWU Students Help Needy Teens Defray Costs of Prom

Seventy-five teenage girls from Columbus, Nebraska, will go to prom this year thanks to a recent dress collection organized by a group of Nebraska Wesleyan University students.

“Every girl’s dream is to go to prom,” said NWU junior Kelli Raile, who spearheaded the prom dress collection.

Raile, chair of the Dream House, a new theme house on campus, learned last fall about the growing number of high school girls who do not attend prom due to the rising costs of prom dresses and accessories. According to PromGirl.com, this year’s prom dresses range from $100-$400.

In Columbus, Nebraska — a town of approximately 22,000 people — nearly 40 percent of the public school students qualify for free or reduced lunches. Needless to say, many of those high school girls can’t afford to go to the year’s biggest event.

In 2007, Jean Kamrath, a school nurse at Columbus High School, identified a need and started Closet Extravaganza, a one-day prom dress shopping event for Columbus high school girls. In it’s first year, 60 girls came shopping for dresses that were donated by Kamrath’s daughter and her friends.

Kamrath organized a second Closet Extravaganza in 2009, and 180 girls showed up.

“I think the numbers increased so much because word got around, and there really is such a need here,” she said.

Columbus teenagers will have the opportunity to shop again in early February. Kamrath admits she doesn’t know what to expect this time around, but a big turnout won’t surprise her given the state of the economy.

That means even more dresses were needed this year.

When Raile learned about Closet Extravaganza, she turned to her Dream House roommates.

“Our mission in this house is to help kids achieve their dreams,” she said. “Dreams come in many forms. We know that going to prom is a dream for high school girls, so we had to help.”

The Dream House roommates asked for help from Nebraska Wesleyan’s sororities. In just a couple weeks, they collected 75 prom dresses, purses, shoes and other accessories.

“Bless your hearts,” Kamrath said of donation. “Wesleyan came through in a big way.”

Nearly 400 dresses have been dry-cleaned and are now hanging on racks ready for the February 5th shopping day in Columbus, which is located 82 miles northwest of Lincoln. Seamstresses will be on hand to donate their services and make sure the dresses perfectly fit their new owners. Mary Kay consultants will share makeup tips and distribute free cosmetics.

“This project is a win win for everyone,” said Kamrath. “You get to clean out your closet and some girl’s dream gets to come true.”

No dress will go wasted. Dresses that remain after the Closet Extravaganza will be donated for use in the Blue Valley Community Action style show scheduled this spring. Proceeds from the style show go to help pay electric bills for those of highest need.

For Raile and her roommates, the satisfaction of making prom a possibility is just as exciting as the dresses are to the high school girls.

“When we first started the Dream House, we all expected to help dreams come true in the Lincoln area,” she said. “We soon realized we could make an impact beyond Lincoln.”

Next Year

I love this program and all that they do. I would love to get in on this for next year, I didn't know that they did that on this side of the state in an area that I can drive top easily. Defiantly looking for more information for next year, a website link would be wonderful!

Very cool program, I'm glad

Very cool program, I'm glad that the students here were so willing to give their support to the program, I think it says a lot about the students at Nebraska Wesleyan. Also it is very good to hear that so many students in the Columbus area were willing to do their shopping at this event. I personally hated prom for all the commercialism that was steeped upon it and it's good to see that we are taking an attempt to eradicate it to some extent, and letting the younger population know that its okay to be thrifty and that you don't always need to spend a fortune to have a good time.

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NWU junior Kelli Raile led a prom dress collection on campus, which resulted in 75 gowns for teens in Columbus, Neb.
Kelli Raile turns over 75 dresses to a Closet Extravaganza volunteer.