Bentley Students Keep ‘Prom-ises’ with Dresses to Dreams Initiative
Prom — one of the most anticipated events for high school students — is more than just a dance. And choosing a prom dress, to many young women, symbolizes an important milestone on their journey to adulthood.
As prom season approaches yet again this year, more than 50 high schoolers from the Greater Boston area gathered on the Bentley campus for the annual Dresses to Dreams event, which provides free prom apparel and a series of workshops focused on goal setting and self-confidence at a time of transition.
“The focal point of the day, and where everyone has the most fun, is the dress room, where girls pick out dresses and try them on for friends, family, and advisers and counselors,” says Dresses to Dreams co-president Ysanel Luciano ’22, a Management major with a concentration in Human Resources Management. “It's special to see their faces light up when they find the right dress and exciting for us, as we feel like we've accomplished our mission. There's a lot of cheering and ‘hyping up’ that goes on in the dress and hair and makeup rooms.”
For the past 11 years, Dresses to Dreams has been giving free prom dresses, shoes and accessories to those who may not otherwise be able to afford them. The recipients choose their dresses at the program’s annual daylong event, where they also have access to hair and makeup tutorials and can participate in a fashion show to model their new dresses.
The Dresses to Dreams mission hits close to home for Luciano. “As someone who comes from a low-income community, I understand the financial burden that comes with buying apparel for events, especially events that you don't want to miss like senior prom.”
Luciano grew up about 25 miles north of Boston in Lawrence. “We have a strong community of immigrants who have worked hard to build our city. I learned firsthand what it means to give back.”
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The impact of the event is what first prompted co-president Sophie Jones ’22 to volunteer. “I personally got involved my first year at Bentley because I believed in the mission of women empowerment, especially since high school is such a vulnerable time in young women’s lives,” says Jones, who is a Management major with a concentration in Global Management and a Law minor and is part of the Women's Leadership Program at Bentley. "As I developed a love for operational planning and creating an impact through my work, I wanted to take on even more responsibility with Dresses to Dreams.”
EMPOWERING THE NEXT GENERATION
Jones and Luciano were among the 14 Bentley students who planned and managed the event, which is held on campus during the spring.
“It all starts off with organizational skills; if you aren't organized, it's hard to keep track of what has been accomplished and what needs to still be done while overseeing five committees,” Luciano says of facilitating the event.
Jones agrees. “Our Bentley skills were showcased in every detail of event planning, including requesting, coordinating and negotiating donations, creating budgets and itineraries, scheduling times with third-party vendors for food and buses, networking with local community members to involve the schools, fundraising and keeping the overall mission in mind.”
She emphasized the importance of the latter. “The purpose of our group is to empower young women through a one-day event to inspire attendees to reach their full potential. We all have a commitment to the event’s social mission.”
Workshops included “Beautiful Betty,” focused on loving yourself inside and out, facilitated by Claudette Blot, assistant director of mentorship and advising at the Bentley Multicultural Center. Dorothy Polatin, director of Gender and Sexuality Student Programs and Dresses to Dreams adviser, led a panel of Bentley women of color students who discussed their Bentley experience and answered questions from participants about everything from the college application process to choosing the right school and major. The keynote speaker was Senior Lecturer in Law and Taxation Kiana Pierre-Louis ’99, who is well-known on the Bentley campus for being a social justice advocate.
“It was amazing to see the look on people's faces as Kiana’s speech resonated with them,” Luciano says. “I believe it meant a lot to them to see a woman of color who has achieved and accomplished many things in her life. I think it's important to put on an event that reflects the community you are serving.”
Now run out of the Gender and Sexuality Student Programs Department at Bentley, Dresses to Dreams began as a small women’s empowerment group and has grown to include 14 women students on its executive board. The organization is responsible for planning content for and facilitating the workshops for students as well as fundraising for dresses through community outreach — both in person and online. Dress donations are accepted throughout the year and come from the Bentley community and dress shops and boutiques in Greater Boston. This year, about 800 dresses in sizes 0-26 were donated.