A Central Alberta initiative is committed to providing a means for local teens to have a very special graduation day.
Spearheaded by the Trenville Royal Purple Elks #248, Gowns for Grads is a program where gowns and suits are donated and then made available for graduating students who might not be able to afford formal wear for graduation day, said Susan Maki, a committee member.
”The Gowns for Grads program was originally started by someone who saw a need. You use a grad dress once – and then it stays in a closet for years. Someone who may not be able to afford a grad dress doesn’t really get to have that dream,” she explained. “This way, people don’t have to worry about grad expenses taking away from any other needs they may have.
“We really want to help families that may be struggling financially – to help lift that burden from them,” she said, adding that the Trenville Royal Purple Elks, based in Elnora, has been involved with the initiative for two years now.
They also host a Gowns for Grads event twice each year.
“We just had such a huge response from the Central Alberta area the first year, that we decided to make it an twice-yearly event,” she said. “In the two and one-half years that we’ve been collecting, we have over 300 gowns in our collection now,” she added.
“The girls come in and we help them pick out dresses in their size. We have them arranged by colour. And we literally have everything from double zero to 26 – every size range. They try them on, and we take photos for them. We help them pick the best one, and then they take it home, free of charge,” she said. “It’s their gown to keep.
“They leave the event just beaming. They are so excited. Girls have left in tears – they are just so happy. And it’s a huge weight off of the parents,” she said, adding that some donations aren’t specifically grad dresses so the moms may find something for themselves as well.
During the last event, 48 dresses were given away.
Some grads decide to re-donate their dresses, but it isn’t an obligation.
Maki also pointed out how the initiative really relies on a group of committed and hard-working volunteers as well.
“On our volunteer sheet when we did one in September, we had 135 volunteer hours in a three-day period,” she said. “We feel so enriched by it. All these girls who come through – they make our hearts feel light.”
In the meantime, the next Gowns for Grads shopping event is set for Feb. 15th (9 a.m. to 7 p.m.) and 16th (10 a.m. to 5 p.m.) at the Elnora Community Hall.
“We like to spread it around to rural community halls,” she said of the Gowns for Grads events.
“This time, we are doing one right in Elnora. It’s open to anyone who is graduating from junior high, high school or college. We also have about two dozen suits if there are men in need as well.”
If anyone would like to donate grad apparel, they can contact Tammy Higginbottom at 403-872-8267 or Lynn Williams at 403-350-1156 for more information.
For more information about Gowns for Grads in general, call Committee Chair Louise Higginbottom at 403-773-3570 or Susan Maki at 403-877-3716. You can also find them on Facebook at ‘Trenville248’.