Brooklyn Prom Project helps living in temporary housing a chance to find their dream dress without stress

students look at dresses at operation prom
Brooklyn Prom Project, formerly known as Operation PROM, hosts an annual free prom dress giveaway for students who need financial help finding the dress of their dreams.
Photo courtesy of Brooklyn Prom Project.

As prom season quickly approaches, Brooklyn volunteers are coming together to make sure all graduates attend the dance looking and feeling their best.

The cost of a new dress or tux, plus shoes, accessories, and tickets can make prom unaffordable for many high school students, but for the last five years, Brooklyn Prom Project has taken the pressure of spending hundreds of dollars on gowns and tuxedos off of thousands of teenagers with financial need and good academic standards.

On May 28, the nonprofit will host their annual outfit-finding event at Thomas Jefferson High School in East New York, inviting students living in temporary housing to spend an afternoon perusing racks of sparkling dresses. A DJ, gifts, demonstrations from makeup artists and over a hundred volunteers make the experience one to remember — and when they find their dream look, bells go off to announce they have “said yes to the dress.”

“I can’t even tell how many dresses we’ve given away, but it’s probably somewhere in the double digits thousands,” said Dawn Simon, chapter director of BPP. “The expectation is that every student will walk away with what they need to attend their prom without a worry. They are already prom queens and kings when they enter.”

student in dress from brooklyn prom project
About a thousand students attend the giveaway each year, sifting through racks of donated dresses to find the dress of their dreams. Prom clothes and tickets can be prohibitively pricey, and the Brooklyn Prom Project works to make it a fun and accessible experience for all. Photo courtesy of the Brooklyn Prom Project

This year, for the first time , the project is expanding to giveaway to eighth grade students after research conducted by the organization showed that there are many middle-school aged students in temporary housing — some in need of a nice dress or a good suit to wear to a dance or formal event.

BPP receives thousands of donations from stores, sororities and community members year-round as entire prom outfits—dresses, tuxes, suits, shirts, ties, shoes— and works together with local small businesses such as dry cleaners to keep things clean and in good condition.

“We let students choose what they want without any influence on their decision,” Simon said. “We know that prom is a sacred moment for them and we want to make sure that moment transcends.”

No student is turned away regardless of their religion, race, gender, or sexual orientation, though students must be approved to participate by a school administrator or social worker.

Starting in its third year of operation, the Brooklyn Prom Project  has grown to include services for everyone who qualifies in New York City — not just students who live in Brooklyn. It is now one of the largest projects of its kind in the country. 

dress giveaway in 2019
Students with demonstrated financial need and in good academic standing are welcome to find their perfect prom dress or tuxedo at the Brooklyn Prom Project’s annual event. Photo courtesy of the Brooklyn Prom Project/Facebook

Senior prom serves as a goodbye to each students’ time in high school and a celebration of what’s to come; and after two very difficult years for students, there’s a lot to celebrate. New York City’s four-year high school graduation rate reached a record high of 78.8 percent in 2020 with gains in every borough, according to 2021 reports. Now, two years after the pandemic shut down schools for the first time, graduation rates are up, dropout rates are down in every borough.

Graduating seniors enrolling in a two or four-year college program, vocational school or public service program is also at an all-time high, and dropout rates in Brooklyn decreased last year despite the struggles students and educators faced during the pandemic.

“People who might want to go need to know they are not going to be judged and shouldn’t be shy,” said Terri Canady, director of volunteer services at Emmanuel Baptist Church, who has participated as a volunteer at the BBP giveaways and has assisted over three thousand people in their dress search. “People there are just real people, they are really sincere and just want them to have a great experience at prom. They should never feel self-conscious.”

For information on how to make a donation, call 718-253-6844.