'An experience no high-schooler should miss': Toronto charity outfits teens for prom

Toronto charity New Circles is asking for donations of gently-used prom dresses and accessories for its 10th annual prom boutique. It outfits hundreds of teens free of charge.

New Circles holding 10th annual prom boutique to help hundreds of teens who can't afford the big event

A New Circles personal shopper prepares for the charity's 10th annual prom boutique. (Paul Borkwood/CBC)

Vicky Vo says choosing the perfect prom dress for her big night last year was overwhelming.

Never mind the extensive colour palette to choose from — the 18-year-old was also looking for the perfect style. But thanks to Toronto charity New Circles, she had the help of a personal shopper as well as a fully-funded outfit.

Vicky Vo found her dress at last year's prom boutique. (Paul Borkwood/CBC)

"The dress and the many accessories and shoes can be very expensive, and I feel like prom is an experience no high-schooler should miss out on," Vo told CBC Toronto. 

"When you look back on high school, you'll remember your prom."

This year, New Circles will hold its 10th annual prom boutique to help teens like Vo, whose families can't afford the expensive clothes and accessories needed to attend the big event. 

"We certainly don't want financial capabilities to be a barrier in their full participation in something that's very important in their lives," said Alykhan Suleman, the executive director of New Circles. 

Some of the accessories on offer. (Paul Borkwood/CBC)

The organization's prom boutique served more than 500 young people last year. This time around, they're aiming to help more than 600 teens.

Vo said she found out about the prom boutique through her high school's guidance counsellor. It took a while to find her dress, she said, but her personal shopper was determined. 

Dresses in all colours of the rainbow adorn the racks at New Circles. (Paul Borkwood/CBC)

"She was really attentive and really caring about what my experience would be like at prom," Vo told CBC Toronto.

In the end, she chose a long, dark red gown — "the perfect dress," she said.

Vo says her dress was 'perfect.' (Paul Borkwood/CBC)

Now, New Circles is looking for donations so it can contribute to future stories like Vo's. The organization is looking for gently-used dresses, shoes and accessories, as well suits and ties.

Have an extra cummerbund? Some old dress shoes kicking around? Suleman says they're usually short in the men's department.

New Circles is also accepting cash donations for its prom boutique. According to the charity, $50 can outfit a teen from head to toe for their big night.

New Circles executive director Alykhan Suleman says money shouldn't be a barrier when it comes to going to the prom. (Paul Borkwood/CBC)

'It's about providing dignity, providing respect'

Suleman says the prom boutique demonstrates the values New Circles always tries to adhere to: investing in people so they can reach their full potential.

Last year, the agency served more than 11,000 people in the Greater Toronto Area. 

(Paul Borkwood/CBC)

"It's about providing dignity, providing respect, and providing opportunity for people," Suleman said.

The organization focuses primarily on gently-used clothing with its service called GLOW, which stands for Gently Loved Outfits to Wear. It also offers job training in areas like retail and business.

New Circles is accepting donations for its prom boutique until Apr. 28. Its office is located at 161 Barley Drive in North York, or you can find a drop-off location near you.

The prom boutique takes place May 6-7.

About the Author

Julia Whalen

Associate Producer, CBC Toronto

Julia has been working in journalism since 2012 — first as a newspaper reporter in Moncton, before making the move to Toronto to work for CBC. She's particularly interested in social issues, health and the creative community, and is a proud Maritimer and dedicated fundraiser for type 1 diabetes research.