TORONTO – It’s a time looked forward to by thousands of high school students across Canada. However for many, prom can be a costly event and a source of stress.
The Corsage Project– a non-profit organization in Toronto – hopes to alleviate some of the financial burden of the annual event and lift the spirits of girls across the GTA.
A quick glance at any mall across the country in springtime highlights the emphasis placed on the high school ritual. Gowns, shoes, handbags, hair accessories and makeup are marketed as must-have items for young prom-goers.
But for many students and families the cost of attending prom is simply too expensive.
The project was created by Carole Atkins and Rhona Sallay, who after spending years working with at-risk youth in Toronto high schools, saw firsthand “the evolution of prom from a simple celebration of an important milestone, to a costly endeavour that was placing unnecessary financial pressure on students.”
Since it began in 2000, the Corsage Project has dressed over 2,500 girls for prom.
The community-based program, in partnership with the Children’s Aid Foundation, collects donated prom dresses, accessories and makeup from sponsors like Le Chateau, Swarovski and Rimmel London.
Every year, 250 girls are invited to attend the Boutique Ball, where they are paired up with volunteers to pick out their formal wear and receive makeup tips and goodie bags, all free of charge.
“A lot of the women who go through the program are dealing with adverse situations,” says project volunteer Sarah Tuite, and some come in with some apprehension.
“The transformation that happens in the girls is amazing,” says Tuite.
The Corsage Project is run entirely on volunteer power. On the day of the Boutique Ball, over 200 volunteers work as personal shoppers, stylists, makeup artists and change room attendants, helping the students put together their perfect prom look.
“Everyone wants to look their best, but for prom the pressure is magnified by 1000 per cent,” says Nicholas Mellamphy, Creative Director of The Room at Hudson’s Bay Co. and a volunteer with The Corsage Project since 2003.
During his years volunteering as a personal shopper and greeting the girls at the Boutique Ball, Mellamphy says he has witnessed many great moments.
“These girls come in with very few breaks given to them in their lives,” says Mellamphy. “So they often give off this perception of being tough and slightly jaded.”
“But within minutes of them being at the Boutique Ball you see that melt away. The simple act of giving with no parameters attached and the act of receiving that gift is transformative.”
Mellamphy’s sentiment is shared by the many volunteers who attend the Boutique Ball.
Julie Schwartz, a long-time volunteer and creator of the name “The Corsage Project” agrees there have been many standout moments in the project’s history.
But for her, “it’s a tie between the excitement of the volunteers and the delight of the participants.”
As someone who grew up as an ‘anti-prom’ rebel, Schwartz says it’s wonderful now as an adult “to be part of helping young people be full participants in this rite of passage.”
The 12th annual Boutique Ball will be held on April 22.