Teen helps girls dress for the prom

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Although Mariel D'Andrea's first high school prom is a year away, the Catholic high school sophomore has a closet full of prom dresses, shoes and makeup -- all the necessary trappings for that special occasion.

Well actually, none of these items belong to her. They've been donated to D'Andrea for her Becca's Closet initiative, a national program with local chapters that collects donated formal wear and accessories and makes them available to girls who can't afford to buy their own.

It all started three years ago, when D'Andrea's mom, Jo Ann, read the Ms. Cheap column in The Tennessean daily newspaper about a girl in Franklin, Caroline Davidson, who was collecting and giving away prom dresses through her own Becca's Closet chapter.

"We e-mailed her, and said we'd love to help out in any way we could," said D'Andrea, who is a student at Father Ryan High School in Nashville. "We didn't hear back from her for a year. Then she e-mailed us, said she'd kept our e-mail and that she was graduating and needed someone to pass this on to."

The D'Andrea family used to live in Falls Church, where the children attended St. James School. They moved to Franklin seven years ago, but still keep in touch with many of their friends in Virginia.

Becca's Closet originated in Davie, Fla., in 2002, when a high school freshman, Rebecca Kirtman, launched a drive to provide prom dresses to disadvantaged high school girls.

During the spring of her sophomore year, Kirtman single-handedly collected and donated more than 250 formal dresses throughout south Florida. Tragically, the 16-year-old Kirtman was killed in a car accident that same year, but her vision continues through other girls' efforts across the country.

"We thought it was a great thing that we'd like to get involved with, but we didn't know how much work it was going to be," D'Andrea told the Tennessee Register, newspaper of the Nashville Diocese. "We also didn't realize how many people it would affect, and how many great people we would meet."

Davidson packed up all the dresses and shoes, and delivered them to the D'Andreas' house. Jo Ann and Mariel unpacked them upstairs in their attic workout room.

Word about D'Andrea's effort has spread through people who come in for dresses and those who donate them.

"It's kind of a touchy thing," she said. "Some girls may be embarrassed about needing to get a dress from us, so we try not to make it too public. And they know we're not going to say anything. We're not here to judge, just to help."

Her "clients" visit from all over Tennessee and beyond, including many from Kentucky. Those who are hoping to get a dress have to call or e-mail D'Andrea to set up an appointment. The family tries to schedule those meetings two days a week, until about seven in the evening. There's no financial eligibility to get a free dress; it's all on an honor system.

"I guess I always took for granted that everyone could afford a prom dress," said D'Andrea. "But many girls can't even afford their prom tickets. So us helping them with a dress is a huge deal."

For more info

Information about Becca's Closet is available on the organization's Web site, Becca's Closet.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2009