Bright Futures prom dress initiative; last chance to shop

Published 9:54 pm Wednesday, April 6, 2022

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While Washington resident Mary Grace Wilder prepares to graduate from North Carolina State University next month, the local program she helped continue while in high school still helps Beaufort County School students look their best on prom night.

The Fashion Forward Prom Boutique is a Bright Futures and Beaufort County Schools project that Northside student Eliza Bowen began in a Belhaven church in 2016. She was ready to graduate and move on a couple years later, so her mother, Kris, contacted Bright Futures to see if the group was interested in taking on the project.

Mary Grace’s mom, Beth, a Bright Futures board member, heard about it at

a meeting, brought it home and found a new operator.

“My mom mentioned it to me during my sophomore year at Washington High School and I was really excited about it,” Wilder said. “I’ve always looked for ways to help people and this project actually inspired my college major and hopefully, my professional career.”

Wilder will graduate in May with a degree in fashion and textiles management and already has a job lined up with an upholstery company near Hickory, N.C. She has also created 12 pieces of semi-adaptive clothing for people with disabilities that she hopes will fill a gap in the marketplace.

“Those dresses were just sitting there when Eliza graduated and I thought it was a perfect fit for me,” Wilder said. “I’ve always loved fashion, creative projects and helping, so the Prom Boutique offered all those opportunities. That inspired my latest project, called Threads, to give disabled people more clothing options.”

Bright Futures liaison Robin McKeithan said around 80 Beaufort County girls have walked away from the first two shopping days with dresses and expects more to attend the final one April 20.

“We know it’s costly to attend the prom and we don’t want anyone to stay home just because they don’t have a dress,” McKeithan said. “When students are engaged in activities, we feel like they become more engaged in the classroom. The only reason we charge $5 is to cover buying hangers and racks and sometimes we need to clean or alter a dress. I doubt this project would have happened without Mary Grace and it’s neat that it’s still going.”

Prospective prom attendees can choose a dress for $5 from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. at 845 N. Pierce St. in Washington in the former Ed Tech room. All proceeds go towards covering project costs.

“I think the coolest part about the project is the ability to adapt and change to meet the needs of Beaufort County young women,” Wilder said. “It’s evolved over time and I’m so grateful I had the opportunity to be part of the process. Taking over the prom boutique and building on the original vision has been one of my greatest blessings.”