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Civic Impact

Project Prom: Giving low-income teens a chance at a red carpet evening

As the recession continues nationwide,unemployment has become the new reality for many people who had never been out of work or struggled to pay bills before. How do you adjust to life without your family's income? For parents of teenagers, the situation brings unique challenges.
How do you tell your teenage daughter that it's not possible to buy a prom dress? Fortunately, a group of out-of-work parents in the Pittsburgh area didn't have to have that conversation with their daughters last week. Qualifying teens were welcomed at the three-day Project Prom event, which provided a huge selection of new and nearly-new gowns, purses, shoes and other accessories to girls preparing to attend their high school prom.

For girls who are struggling with the challenges of poverty, it was a bright spot in a very challenging year. The program has been run since 2003, but this year it had special significance for the many families who are struggling financially for the first time.

"One mother told us she didn't tell her daughter where they were coming. They had gone dress shopping before and her daughter had found this dress she wanted that was $500," says Samantha Murphy of Allegheny County's Office of Community Relations, who helped organize the event. "She had just started crying… she knew they couldn't afford it, and she said, 'We could have afforded it before.'"

Last week, that mother and many others brought their girls to Project Prom. "She just kind of said to her daughter, 'We have to run some errands.' They came and the girl found a dress that she loved," Murphy says. "As parents, we don't really let our kids know what our financial situation is, until you kind of have to. And when you do it can be very hard."

The dresses come from individual donors and stores, and today (noon-6 p.m.) all dresses that weren't claimed are on sale to the public for just $25 or less at Century III Mall in West Mifflin, where Project Prom was held.

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Writer: Melissa Rayworth
Source: Samantha Murphy, Office of Community Relations
Image courtesy of Project Prom/Office of Community Relations
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