Prom project kicks off for third year in Hamilton

Hamiltonians can donate their formalwear to ensure students can afford to attend proms, graduations, and major milestone events.

Used formalwear needed so students can attend proms and graduations

The Prom Project Hamilton accepts new and gently-used formalwear to offer to teenagers who would otherwise miss out on milestones like prom and graduation. (HWDSB)

Whether your memories of prom and graduation bring nostalgia or dread, you remember them because they were momentous occasions. Yet with the rising costs of new suits and dresses, hair and makeup, many kids end up not being able to attend.

Prom Project Hamilton says no student deserves to miss out on their milestones just because they can't afford to participate. Now in its third year, the project offers used formalwear and accessories free-of-cost to teenagers who would otherwise go without. It's now looking for donations for this year's project.

We even have seamstresses to alter the clothing, because kids come in all shapes and sizes.- Julie Densham,  HWDSB Foundation

Julie Densham, of the Hamilton-Wentworth School District Foundation, says the project helps remove barriers for students.

"Prom, graduation, special events at the end of the year are really milestone events, and we have found in the past that there's many students who just won't attend these events because they don't have things to wear," she says.

Overcoming adversity

Densham created the project when she was part of the District School Board of Niagara about 10 years ago, after she overheard her then-teenaged daughter talking to a friend who wouldn't attend graduation because she didn't have anything to wear. 

More than 500 students benefit from Prom Project Hamilton each year, including many who come from out of town. (HWDSB)

"I thought, well, that can't happen. We're always doing clothing drives, we're always doing winter coat drives, why not one for formalwear?"

"It's a really important event for them. Overcoming adversity and finally graduating, what a great feeling," says Densham. "It's a time for celebration for these guys."

The project attracts around 500 kids a year, from within Hamilton and outside, who each walk away with about $150 worth of clothing, personal hygiene products, shoes, accessories, makeovers, and even tutorials.

"We even have seamstresses to alter the clothing, because kids come in all shapes and sizes," she says.

'We need to look after each other a little better'

Bob Hatcher, a Hamilton-area photographer, has been volunteering for the event since its conception in the region. He got involved through his daughter, who is a teacher, and together the two offer free photoshoots for kids shopping for new outfits and getting their hair and makeup done.

Hatcher says the kids are often shy at first, but as soon as they see a few professionally shot sample photos -- sometimes even with their families involved -- there's a big difference.

Julie Densham says no kid deserves to miss out on their big day just because they can't afford it. (HWDSB)

"You can almost see them stand taller, a bit prouder, smile a little more easily. Usually by the time we're done with our shoot, they're pretty happy," he says. 

"This is Canada. We live in abundance here, which I recognize everyday," he says. "But stepping into that environment, when the kids come through, you can definitely see that we need to look after each other a little better. That's what this does - it seems to be a boost for their self-esteem."

Project includes fashion show, shopping days

This year's edition of the project launches this month, with donations accepted at any of the 20 participating drop-off locations. On March 25, there will be a free fashion show at Limeridge mall, where kids model the latest fashions, and some of the clothes in the project's closet.

Organizers of the 2017 Prom Project are looking for donations. (HWDSB)

Later, there will be two "shopping" events on April 29 and May 6, where teenagers looking for formalwear will be welcomed, no questions asked. 

The Prom Project welcomes all donations of new and gently-used formalwear, and particularly see a shortage in smaller-sized up-to-date clothing for boys, and larger-sized dresses for girls.

Those interested in volunteering or donating their time and services are also welcome, and Densham says men are especially welcome to offer assistance to young boys who are shy about shopping for themselves.

"It's not a materialistic gift we're giving to the kids," she says. "We're giving them a sense of pride so they can feel confident, and go with their friends to celebrate."

For more information about the Prom Project Hamilton, visit the website