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Project offers students free prom dresses, beauty appointments

Tricia Dwyer-Johnston, left, and Judy Bishop are shown

Tricia Dwyer-Johnston, left, and Judy Bishop are shown with some of the more than 700 donated prom dresses they've collected since February. (April 17, 2013) Credit: Newsday / John Paraskevas

Zahra Dhalla couldn't afford to attend prom, even with her part-time job at a beauty salon.

"It's an expensive event," said the 18-year-old senior at East Meadow High School. "You have to get a dress, shoes, a purse, your hair and makeup done. Just because of the price, it kind of turns people off."

That's where Project Granting Lasting Amazing Memories stepped in. The project plans to provide free prom dresses and beauty appointments to more than 200 girls from 15 Long Island school districts and seven New York City schools Saturday at Kings Park High School. Average prom costs exceed $1,000 nationally, and are higher on Long Island.

"I was excited because they're giving you an opportunity to go," Dhalla said. "Prom happens once. . . . Every girl deserves the opportunity to feel like a princess."

While several prom donation drives take place across Long Island each year, this is the first time WGIRLS -- a national nonprofit that assists underprivileged women and children -- will hold Project G.L.A.M. on Long Island.

"It's so much more than providing a girl with a dress," said Joanna Konopka, president of WGIRLS Coastal Long Island chapter. "You're providing her with confidence, with dignity, and giving her an ability to join her peers. It's a monumental moment in a young girl's life."

Tatianna Watkins, a 17-year-old senior at Brentwood High School, said saving for prom from her part-time job at Dunkin' Donuts was "a struggle" while also saving to attend Central Piedmont Community College in Charlotte, N.C. Still, she was trying to make it work.

"I think every girl wants to experience the prom day because it makes them feel like a princess," she said. "It's a good night to experience with your friends before you take that walk across the stage."

WGIRLS contacted schools, asking for nominations of underprivileged senior girls who had good attendance records and were scheduled to graduate. Schools may nominate students Friday by registering at Registration is required and space is limited.

The group teamed up with the Kings Park school district to host the event, and with Kings Park parent Tricia Dwyer-Johnston, who had started her own prom dress drive. On Saturday, girls will be able to shop racks of more than 1,000 donated new and used dresses. Representatives from The Body Shop and Cactus Academy, a Paul Mitchell Partner School, will take free makeup and hair appointments, respectively, for prom day.

Judy Bishop, executive assistant to Kings Park Superintendent Susan Agruso, cited the high school's location near the Kings Park train station as ideal, particularly for girls traveling from other communities.

Bishop said some of them might be from wealthy communities and have a parent or parents who have lost jobs, and they do "not want anybody to know that they can't afford to go to prom. They can feel comfortable coming here."

Tiffany Fiore, 17, of Port Jefferson Station, did not plan on going to prom. "I was just thinking I don't have a lot of money for college, so I needed to save up for that," said the Comsewogue High School senior. "I was really stressed out."

Fiore has worked as a cashier at McDonald's for nearly two years, she said, contributing to her mother's medical bills for triple-negative breast cancer and accompanying her to chemotherapy treatments.

Fiore's mother, Brandy Walker, 37, said her other daughter couldn't afford to go to prom last year. "I'm a single mom. . . . I wasn't able to work," she said of her cancer treatment. Project G.L.A.M. was "such a relief," Walker said. "Now that she'll be able to go, that will be great."

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