Cleveland student collects prom dresses for 18th birthday


CLEVELAND (AP) — Ashley Wilson had her eye on dresses for a birthday gift and not just one dress. Not even just one closet full of dresses. For her 18th birthday on Dec. 17, Ashley asked for dozens of dresses.

Before you conjure up Veruca Salt in full brat mode, before you think of Ashley as selfish or materialistic, know this: She’ll never wear any of those dresses. She wants to give them away to girls who can’t afford them.

“I thought what better way to celebrate your birthday than helping other people?” said Ashley, a senior at Villa Angela St. Joseph.

She’ll readily admit she was thinking “party” when she first began searching on the Internet for ways to mark her 18th birthday. Maybe an indoor water park? Then she came across the suggestion to make a donation in honor of her birthday and she knew that was what she’d do.

The question then became what kind of donation? And how was she going to do that. She did some searching on the Internet again, and came across a suggestion to collect prom dresses for girls who can’t afford that expense.

And so she conceived of “Prom Me Please,” a project where she collects gently used prom dresses (and cocktail dresses and bridesmaid dresses) and, she hopes, gives them to those in need. She hasn’t gotten quite that far yet.

This isn’t a school service project. She doesn’t earn class credit, though she receives tons of credit for her selflessness from teachers, classmates and alumni alike.

Well, truth is, some classmates scratched their heads. They wondered: Of all the world’s problems, how high up does the lack of prom dresses rank? Plus, there are other non-profits, some in Ohio (Diva Donations in North Lima) and even local ones (My Fairy Godmother in North Randall), that do similar work. A Prom to Remember, which is in Cleveland and other cities, collects dresses for a special night for girls with cancer.

But there isn’t one organization that feeds the needy or shelters the homeless, there are many. Why not many that provide prom dresses?

“Everyone deserves to go to prom,” she answered, noting that the dresses are not cheap. “Not everyone can afford to have that glamorous, once in a lifetime ball like we can.”

She recently set up a table in the front hallway of VASJ and waited for dresses to roll in. The school had sent an e-mail blast to alumni alerting them to Ashely’s project. “And I put it out on social media; that’s how you do everything nowadays,” she said.

Her friend Taylor Woods, 17, of Cleveland and boyfriend Carlos Rojack, 18, of Maple Heights, helped.

“It’s for a good cause and she’s my best friend,” said Woods.

A dozen cars pulled in. By day’s end, Ashley had collected 82 dresses. She now has more than 100. Luckily her aunt bought her dress racks for her birthday.

Ellen Lucas of Euclid, chauffeured by her husband, John, came with armfuls of dresses from her own closets — she has three grown daughters — and from co-workers, too.

“I would have brought more, but my sisters had sons!” she said.

She told Ashley: “It’s so great that such a young girl would be so thoughtful.”

Judy Busch of Cleveland said as she dropped off eight dresses: “It’s a great idea. Somebody can use them instead of them sitting in the closet.”

Even the school nurse came by on her day off to deliver a dress.

“Ashley is a very giving child and she came up with this all by herself,” said nurse Anna Battista.

Rocquel Malone, whose daughter is a VASJ grad, said it makes sense to pass the dresses along. “Prom dresses are expensive and you wear it for a couple of hours. It can be $500 for a couple of hours.”

Ashley, who plans to major in nonprofit management at Cleveland State University next year, packed the back of her used compact car with dresses and headed for home after collection day.

She plans to continue reaching out to school principals and the Boys & Girls Clubs to find people who need dresses and she’s still looking for a way to let them shop from her collection. There’s time. Prom is still a long way off.

First comes her birthday, and the gift that comes with thinking about, and doing for, others.

Said VASJ Principal David Csank: “She is, and always has been, a positive leader.”

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Information from: The Plain Dealer, http://www.cleveland.com

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