A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of volunteering at Bella Boutique, a non-profit organization that collects prom dresses and accessories for high school girls. A friend forwarded me an email with a call to volunteers and said, "I thought this was something you'd be interested in." She was right. Five minutes later, I was signed up to help young girls from low-income families find the prom dress of their dreams.
Bella Boutique is the Denver Metro area’s only non-profit that provides area teens with free gowns, shoes, accessories and more for their high school dances. The organization not only provides hundreds of evening gowns each year to teens within a one-hour radius of downtown Denver, but is also the area’s only non-profit that provides each girl with a personal shopping experience to ensure that picking her dress is a memorable day. I signed on to be one of the"personal shoppers" to help tailor the experience to each and every girl who walked through the doors that day.
To be honest, I wasn't sure what to expect. I figured they would have a few dresses, but maybe they'd be in terrible shape, or in styles that teen girls would not be interested in. But when I first walked into the shop, I was blown away by how many dresses were hanging on the racks. There were dresses in every color of the rainbow, in every shape and size, and in every style you could imagine. They were meticulously organized by color, length and size, and they were all in phenomenal condition. Founder and President of Bella Boutique, Tia Hunsperger, welcomed me (and the four other volunteers) with a warm smile that morning and showed us the ropes. She walked us through the racks of dresses, gave us a run-down on how she wanted the day to go, and taught us a few pointers on how to make each girl feel unique, beautiful and special.
It was a cold, snowy morning, so we weren't sure how many girls would show up for their appointments, but we saw about 15 girls that day. And each girl walked out with a dress that was perfect for her. I haven't been around high school girls since, well, I was in high school, so I was apprehensive about meeting the young ladies. Are high school girls mean? Will they be open to this process or will they scoff at used dresses? Though I am only 30, I thought they might think of me as too old to be helping them find their perfect style. I could not have felt more silly about these anxieties once I met my first girl. She was sweet, demure, kind, appreciative and willing to try on anything. She was a tiny little thing, maybe 90 pounds soaking wet, yet she was self conscious and lacked some self esteem that I wish I could have given her. But I was immediately reminded of myself as a teenager - how awkward and uncomfortable I felt in my body, how I never wanted anyone to look at me for fear they would see all the flaws I saw when I looked in the mirror. If I could talk to myself as a teenage girl, I would tell myself not to waste ANY time sweating the insecurities because a day will come when you just say "ahhhhh, this is ME, and I am enough." After many, MANY dresses tried on, we found a dress that made her GLOW. The smile on her face when she looked in the mirror told me everything. She felt beautiful and like herself, and that was all I wanted from this experience. Unfortunately, Girl #1 was not 18, so I could not take a picture with her, but she walked out the door with a beautiful lavender ballgown.
After helping Girl #1 find her dress, I was feeling confident in this process. I was handed a chart for my second girl, Jordan, and I went up front to meet her. Another sweetheart! I was pleasantly surprised at how well mannered these girls were. Jordan had a much fuller figure than Girl #1, so finding a dress that fit her beautiful curves was a bit more of a challenge, but Jordan was an excellent sport. I thought trying on dress after dress that was too small for her might make her feel down, but she remained upbeat and confident that we would find something. And we did! Jordan walked out the door with something more unique than most other girls were finding, a flowy floral maxi dress with a sweetheart neckline. She looked stunning and happy. (See picture below.)
And then came my biggest challenge of the day. Girl #3 was a 17-year-old mother. She had her baby two years ago, put on a lot of weight, and never lost it. She was shy, soft-spoken and insecure. Her father and stepmother were there for moral support, but she didn't want to come out of the dressing room to show anyone how our choices looked. We were having trouble zipping a lot of the dresses and I was mortified that we wouldn't find anything that fit her and that she would walk out feeling sad. But at the end of the day, we actually had two gorgeous dresses for her to choose from that fit her perfectly. She chose a silky black number with a plunging neckline and a sexy back. I could tell that she was really "feeling herself" in that dress, and we were all beaming for her.
My experience at Bella Boutique was one-of-a-kind. So many misconceptions were squashed that day, so many young girls left feeling beautiful, confident, and ready to have fun at their dances. I am thankful for people like Tia and her team who take time out of their already busy schedules (they all have full-time careers) to give back to their community in a really special way. In an era of social media pressures, Photoshopped EVERYTHING, stick thin models, and immediate access to information (both accurate and wildly INACCURATE), shaping our youth and helping them feel confident in their bodies is important and often overlooked. Aside from the importance of the cause and getting to help some really sweet young girls, I got to play with pretty things and flex my personal shopper muscle, so I'd give the experience an A+.
If you are interested in volunteering for Bella Boutique (they always need volunteers!), please visit their website or reach out to Tia Hunsperger at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you want to help but don't have time to volunteer, DONATE! Bella Boutique runs solely on donations, and they are always looking for dresses, shoes and accessories to add to their stock. They are most in need of dresses that are size 8 and above, shoes that are size 6 and below, and jewelry, but they will take it all! Think about it, is your prom dress still hanging in the back of a closet at your childhood home? Or maybe it's in YOUR closet, collecting dust... seriously, that's weird... why not give it a new life on someone else who needs it? After all, Earth Day is tomorrow, and there is more out there than paper and plastic that can be recycled!
Thanks to Bella Boutique for letting me play Fairy Godmother for a day!
Shout-out to Alexandra Gage for forwarding me the volunteer email. xo
Photos by yours truly on an iPhone; please forgive the quality.