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Prom Boutique helps students dance into Spring

Students whose families are light on spending money will be able to afford their dream prom dress this year, because the Prom Boutique, an outreach of the Bright Futures Beaufort County, will be open next week. “We would love for anyone to come out and find their perfect dress. This is open to all girls in Beaufort County,” said Robin McKeithan, assistant director of the Washington Beaufort County Chamber of Commerce, which created the Bright Futures program in 2014 and added the Prom Boutique to its outreach efforts in 2018.

“We didn’t even know if we could do a prom this year. Then the governor’s loosening of pandemic restrictions made this possible,” McKiethan said.

The cafeteria at the old Ed Tech School, behind King Chicken at 845 North Pierce Street, will be transformed and Covid compliant next week, according to Ashley Padgett, who is Director of Student Activities for Ed Tech School and supervises the event. Prom dresses in all sizes, as well as shoes, purses, and jewelry will be available. Masks are required for participants, who can shop there on Tuesday, April 6 from 1pm to 6pm, or Wednesday, April 7 from 10am to 1pm. 

Every gown has been donated, either by area residents or Beaufort County business owners who have participated since the idea took form in 2014. That’s when Eliza Bowen, then a junior at Northside High School in Pinetown, started talking about “people who buy these beautiful dresses and only ever wear them once or twice. She is always thinking outside the box about how to help others, and decided she wanted to see young women, her high school peers, feel beautiful,” according to Eliza’s mother Chris Bowen. With help from church leaders, local educators, friends who took it over after Eliza graduated — and now Bright Futures — Eliza’s heart and all those helping hands have outfitted hundreds of students who couldn’t otherwise afford a prom.

The gowns cost $5 each. “Proms are expensive and we didn’t want money to be a factor for some of our families. And making that payment adds an element of independence and self worth for the students. Every penny goes right back into the Prom Boutique,” McKiethan said, adding that Prom Boutique finances are managed through a separate line item in the Chamber’s budget, and used for costs such as freshening up donated prom gowns that might need cleaning or mending.

Donations of gowns — especially larger sizes from 14 through the multiple-X categories — are still being accepted, as well as shoes and accessories. “We have lots of dresses, but we love giving more options for our shoppers,” Padgett said. Interested donors should contact Padgett by noon on Monday, April 5th, to arrange for the transfer. She can be reached via email at apadgett@beaufort.k12.nc.us or by phone at 252-946-9168.