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WHS students selling prom gowns for charity

Date: 3/9/2011

March 9, 2011

By Debbie Gardner

Assistant Editor

WESTFIELD — In these tough economic times, a group at Westfield High School (WHS) is offering a way for families to deck out their prom-bound daughters affordably while doing good for fellow students in need.

On March 11 and 12 the school is hosting its second Prom Gown Sale, offering shoppers a selection of approximately 300 gently used dresses — plus accessories, pocketbooks and shoes — at what School Adjustment Counselor Catherine Tansey, coordinator of the event, said are "very minimal prices."

Tansy added the sale is open to the public.

Dresses and accessories will be available from 3 to 7 p.m. on March 11 and from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on March 12 at the WHS campus, located at 550 Dorian Rd. Proceeds benefit the school's Kinship Fund, a social services resource that assists 17 and 18-year-old students, mostly seniors, who, for various reasons, no longer live with parents or guardians.

The sale, Tansey said, offers shoppers many of the amenities they would find when visiting a dress shop or department store.

"We have shorter dresses and we have long gowns," she said. "We have a seamstress on site and dressing rooms and full-length mirrors and assistants to help the girls try on gowns."

The seamstress, she said, is an Autism specialist at the school who is volunteering to be available to mothers and daughters during the event.

"If she's gong to redo a dress she's going to charge," Tansey said "But she will happily give an opinion or make a quick alteration on site."

In addition to the sale, Tansey said she's collected prom-related gift certificates for services such as hair styling and manicures, which will be offered as part of a raffle.

Tansey called the sale, which last year raised $1,700 for the Kinship Fund, a "win-win" for students and parents alike.

"It gives everyone a chance to join in the activities that their peers are participating in without any worry about measuring up," she said. "I had a mom last year who had three girls and she bought three gowns.'

Tansey said she also supplied a few of last year's WHS students she knew were struggling financially with gowns at no charge.

It's just part of the way Tansey, who created the Kinship Fund in 2009 to honor her father-in-law, John, tries to take care of the school's older students who sometimes seem to fall through the cracks in the system.

She said John, who had raised seven children, had a hard time understanding why there was no one to care for these kids.

"These kids exist in every high school," Tansey said "I counted 30 last year."

She said she often becomes aware a student is having a problem with his or her family situation when "there's no one to sign a permission slip, or there's no money for a field trip, or [he or she is the] kid in the cafeteria who's not eating lunch."

The reasons students aren't living with parents or guardians can range from parental drug use and/or incarceration to homelessness to unemployment and/or a family move that would have required the student to leave the high school in his or her senor year.

"Schools are just a microcosm of the community and we know what's happening in Westfield," Tansey said. "Seventeen and 18-year-olds don't want to move to another community. They don't want to go in to foster care. They want to stay where they are."

However, Tansey was quick to point out the Kinship Fund doesn't write checks for these students indiscriminately.

"We take them under our wing and try to help them find jobs, help them gain independence skills in areas such as decision making and problem solving," she said, adding that many times, these students are trying to hold down a job and go to school.

"Adults come with transitional assistance," Tansey pointed out. "Kids don't come with money."

She and her colleague, Carie Hildrith Fordelichi, will try to locate a relative the student can live with. If that fails, they will help subsidize the expenses to have a friend's family take the student in by connecting them with the appropriate social services.

The fund, she said, will also sometimes work with other social service providers, such as the housing agency, DOMUS, and the Salvation Army, to find housing, furnishing and other necessities for these students — and anyone they might be supporting.

"It just seems so sad to see a mid-year senior drop out of school, and there's no reason for it," Tansey said. "We try to get them to all the senior activities, pay for their cap and gown."

Her goal for this year's Prom Gown Sale is about $2,000.

"I would say $2,000 is what we need to get through the year, and it would be nice to have a little left over," she said.

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