The price to attend prom has always been an expensive right of passage. As the costs continue to soar to insurmountable heights, countless students in Ontario and across Canada are prohibited from celebrating their high-school graduation with their peers. During the pandemic there was a pause on all graduation festivities. However, now that prom and convocation ceremonies are a reality again, the expenses involved in purchasing formal wear have risen exponentially. This “prom-flation” is making the academic milestone unaffordable for many financially deserving soon-to-be graduates. Our tutoring team is passionate about this cause, as our president, Joanne Sallay, is the volunteer Chair of Toronto-based Corsage Project, in partnership with the Children's Aid Foundation of Canada, which provides free formal attire and scholarships to financially deserving secondary students. Read on to learn Joanne’s suggestions on the variety of free support programs available to teens and how to participate!
Why the Prom Experience Matters
It is important to understand the significance of this experience for grade 12 students. Prom is considered a rite of passage. After close to 15 years of school (elementary and secondary school combined), prom not only marks the end of high-school, but an opportunity to celebrate this milestone with friends. For some students, they will be the first in their family to earn a secondary school diploma.
How Prom-flation Impacts Students
We are getting accustomed to seeing price increases in everyday items from groceries to clothes. The term coined “prom-flation” is very real as costs associated with prom are even higher now than pre-pandemic levels. The cost to purchase a prom dress and related accessories is becoming unimaginable due to prom-flation for many graduating teens, prohibiting them from celebrating this academic milestone with their peers. Not to mention the expense of prom tickets on top of it all. This is why it's important to refer qualifying youth to organizations who understand these pressures and outfit students with free formal attire in a welcoming environment.
Prom Projects Offer Free Formal Attire to Deserving Students and More
Most non-profit prom projects provide a combination of new and gently used dresses, gowns and accessories free of charge for graduating grade 12 students. Some organizations accommodate suits as well, in addition to supporting grade 8 student graduations. Prom boutique events tend to resemble a shopping bazaar and are meant to be a meaningful experience for students to feel pampered while they "shop" for their perfect outfit. While these charities and non-profit programs are known for providing free prom attire, many have other offerings including scholarship awards for participating students who plan to pursue post-secondary education.
Prom Boutique Events Take Place Annually in April and May
The majority of prom boutique events are hosted annually in April and May. It is important to check with the organization closest to you to confirm when their event is hosted. Some programs host one boutique day annually, while others may have a few weekend opportunities in the spring. It’s also important to keep in mind that dates tend to change every year.
Students Should Register in Advance to Participate and Check their E-mail for Updates
Check the website of the participating project of interest to understand key dates to register by and attend the actual boutique day. Often a confidential referral is required from a guidance counsellor, teacher or social worker to qualify to participate. Most of these events will require an invitation to attend. While some students are not in the habit of checking e-mail regularly, it's recommended that students monitor their accounts for important updates and reminders around their scheduled slot.
Prom Programs are often Volunteer Run by Teachers and Community Members
Educators see the struggles and obstacles firsthand that students may face to graduate, including financial hardships. Teachers on Call’s very own Rhona Sallay falls in this category as the co-founder of the Toronto based Corsage Project in partnership with the Children’s Aid Foundation of Canada. Inspired by the Cinderella Project in Vancouver, British Columbia, Rhona and her colleague, Carole Atkins, decided to start a similar project for youth living across the Greater Toronto Area. They witnessed the financial need first-hand while teaching at Danforth Collegiate and Technical Institute in the Toronto District School Board. Like the leadership of Teachers on Call, Rhona passed the Corsage Project torch to our president, Joanne Sallay, who has been the volunteer Chair of this non-profit program since 2010.
Next Steps if Unable to Attend the Closest Prom Event
If you miss or are unable to join the prom event of interest, it is still worth reaching out to the organization. They may be able to refer you to a similar project or potentially accommodate a private appointment. You may also check in with your school or school board, as some secondary schools host in-school prom events for their student community. This is often organized by local teachers and guidance counsellors. Remember that most programs are volunteer-run, which impacts availability and capacity to accept students. It's best to register in advance to ensure your confirmed spot if possible!
Reputable and Recognized Prom Projects Helping Students Across Canada
While the Corsage Project is connected to our tutoring team, it’s only one of many amazing non-profit programs providing free formal wear to graduating students. Read on to learn about 5 organizations in Canada providing free prom attire to make prom dreams come true without breaking the piggy bank!
The Cinderella Project in Vancouver, British Columbia - #172-219 Mackay Road, North Vancouver, British Columbia, V7P 3N6
The Cinderella Project is one of the first prom projects in Canada that paved the way for others to follow. It’s a federally registered, 100% volunteer-based charity founded in Vancouver in 1999, servicing students from school districts in Burnaby, North Vancouver, Pemberton, Richmond, Squamish, Vancouver, West Vancouver and Whistler. The Cinderella Projects hosts a Boutique Day, annual Achievement Awards and mentorship opportunities for their students.
This community-based program is in partnership with the Children’s Aid Foundation of Canada, a leading charity in our country. Throughout the years, thousands of students have participated from the child welfare system and with financial need by removing barriers associated with the prom experience. Through an annual event, affectionately named the ‘Boutique Ball’, the Corsage Project provides an authentic prom shopping experience for financially deserving youth. Students choose from thousands of brand-new donated dresses, shoes and accessories all free of charge and with the help of a personal shopper. The Corsage Project also has other offerings which includes hosting an annual graduation lunch for Indigenous students at the Native Learning Centre in downtown Toronto. Annual scholarships and bursary awards are also provided for youth going on to college or university who have demonstrated community impact.
New Circles Community Services in Toronto, Ontario - 161 Bartley Dr, North York, Ontario M4A 1E6
While New Circles is known for a variety of clothing initiatives throughout the year as Toronto’s largest free clothing program, they host a pop-up shop style event called GLOW UP for Prom where they provide gently used and new suits, dresses and accessories to students across Toronto, all free of charge. While official events take place in April, students who are unable to attend can contact New Circles to make private appointments.
This organization provides new and gently used dresses free of charge to support grade 8 graduation and grade 12 prom celebrations for families with financial need. Prom Glitz Boutique Days are hosted on select Friday and Saturdays in April and May at Barrie’s Kozlov Centre. For community members looking to donate dresses in good condition, donations are accepted at both the Kozlov Centre and St. Peter’s Catholic Secondary School in the Simcoe Muskoka Catholic District School Board at 201 Ashford Drive, Barrie, Ontario L4N 6A3.
Fées Marraines / Fairy Godmothers in Montreal, Québec
Fées Marraines also known as Fairy Godmothers, supports students in the greater Montreal area in Québec, founded under the leadership of a special teacher, Linda Blouin. Prom dresses, evening shoes and bags are supplied to students in Secondary 5 from underprivileged and vulnerable backgrounds since 2014. There is also a pilot project in place to support young men with free attire. Fun fact, this program was born after “prom shadowing” the Corsage Project Boutique Ball.
The ability to participate in prom can brighten the life of a young person and enable them to feel special, sometimes for the very first time. It provides them with hope and the knowledge that their community cares about them, and inspires many to give back in a meaningful way. In fact, many prom boutique participants will often come back to volunteer throughout their adulthood. If you know of a student graduate in need, encourage them to search online or check in with the school guidance department for a referral to a program near you!
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