High school prom season is just around the corner. But for many, the increasing costs to attend can be overwhelming. High school senior Destiney Skinner is helping to make that formal springtime ritual accessible to hundreds of girls this spring.
A lifer at Tower Hill School and a 13-year member of Girl Scout Troop 1790, Skinner recently earned a Gold Award – the highest honor for a Girl Scout– for her 2018 project, “Say Yes to the Prom Dress.”
Skinner worked hard to get friends, her church and businesses to donate new prom dresses. She then gave away those gowns to more than 100 financially disadvantaged girls last year and will do so again this season.
While Girl Scouts (and Boy Scouts) focus a great deal on community service, often with older Scouts initiating larger philanthropic projects, Destiney’s effort stemmed from life experiences and her desire to make a difference for young girls in the Compton Village neighborhood where she has grown up.
“There is such a difference, where you have this working class, and where people at my church feed the homeless each week, and then being at school with affluent people. I have seen the two perspectives my whole life,” she said.
Nothing brings home the divide between Skinner’s two orbits than prom, which might involve tickets to a dinner dance and after prom, a new dress or tux rental, shoes, accessories, and transportation.
Skinner started thinking about her senior year Girl Scout project in the spring of her sophomore year. Her cousin, then a senior, gave Destiney her prom dress to borrow that year, and the Hiller was incredibly grateful. “The fact that some people find it difficult to afford a prom dress inspired my idea.”
Now an Ambassador in the Girl Scout program, Skinner says her Scouting project also offered a great way for the teenager to combine three things she loves to do — interact with other people her age, help others, and shop! “I wanted the project to reflect who I am,” she said.
Her goal last spring was to collect and donate 100 or more dresses.
Skinner started promoting her “Say Yes to the Prom Dress” idea and collecting dresses through her church and school. While people were generous, donations were slow going.
She then heard about the Fairy Godmother Project, an organization with similar objectives as Skinner’s, and that group donated 30 dresses to Skinner. “That was huge. Then I did a big push on Facebook and Instagram and more dresses started coming in.”
But she still wasn’t close to 100 dresses.
So she went to local shops including David’s Bridal, JC Pennys, and Macy’s to solicit donations, but they required that she pitch her concept to corporate offices, which turned up nothing.
But the kindness of one store employee at JC Penny’s in Prices Corner did, in fact, make a world of difference. The employee offered to put a poster advertising Skinner’s campaign in the store window, and to Skinner’s amazement, one shopper took notice of the sign and reached out to help.
“Incredibly, a mom who was shopping there saw the sign and reached out to me and she had a couple of hundred dresses to donate because her daughter had done something similar to my idea three years before with another Girl Scout troop. The other Girl Scout and her mom had given away dresses for a couple of years after her project. But now the girl was off at college, and the mom still had about 300 leftover dresses.”
At this point, Skinner had collected about 70 dresses. Adding hundreds more would more than help her reach her goal.
“I was overjoyed and in disbelief! The disappointment of not being able to have even one dress donated from any of those stores turned into the most amazing thing. Truly, it was the most unbelievable turn of events!”
But at the same time, Skinner was skeptical about the donation. She was worried about the condition of the dresses and if they were new or used. “I didn’t want to get my hopes up until I saw the dresses.”
But the dresses were indeed in great condition – about half were gently used and half were new. None were ripped or torn, and all were clean. Most of the dresses had tags and ranged between $100 – $200. Skinner cataloged each one according to size and value.
Not surprisingly, a lot of thought was given to just exactly who would receive the sparkly short and floor-length gowns.
She asked herself, “How would I differentiate girls who really needed a new prom dress from those who just wanted a free dress? How would I identify the best schools with the neediest teenagers?
“I decided to focus on teens who weren’t as fortunate as I was, and I decided to look for girls in foster care and girls who are differently abled. This also helped to narrow the scope of the project to a more manageable number of dresses I would need to give away.”
She reached out to a variety of foster care agencies to share her good news. Then Girls Scouts of the Chesapeake Bay put her in touch with other social service agencies (Domestic Violence Services, YWCA and CHILD, Inc.) as well as The Delaware School for the Deaf and two autistic teenage girls who were also in need of a prom dress.
Girls at each location were delighted to hear the news that they could come “shop” for a new prom dress. Last April, 50 young ladies showed up to the giveaway at Skinner’s church for the afternoon event. Skinner even connected a make-up artist, who donated her time, with some of the girls.
And for the next four weeks leading up to prom and into the fall of 2019 — for homecoming — parents and girls called to ask for more free dresses. Eventually, Skinner gave away over 100 dresses.
And she’s doing it again this month because prom’s around the corner.
“I think the project was definitely more than I bargained for. But in the end, I felt like I did more than I thought I could do. I based my project on the Girl Scout law – to be considerate, caring, and to use resources wisely.
“If I had never really seen both sides of how people live – the scale of the difference – I wouldn’t have realized where people were really coming from. But I do, and that’s why I wanted to help. And now so many girls will have one less thing to worry about for prom, and they will look great on their special night.”