The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

AP story section

April 5, 2013

Volunteers make prom special for Alaska students

SITKA, Alaska — For girls, proms are all about the dresses. Kayla Wolfe just never imagined what it would take to pick one.

First, there was what felt like a million questions. “What kind of dress was I looking for? What size am I? What kind of color? Long or short?” said the 15-year-old freshman at Mount Edgecumbe High School, a state-run boarding school in Sitka, Alaska.

Her answers gave her passage into a room stocked full of dresses — a bounty that Kayla, or most students, in rural Alaska have never seen.

The dresses were brought to the school by the Seattle-based Prom Princess program, which brings the prom experience to Mount Edgecumbe, where many students don’t have the resources or the help from their far-off families to get party dresses, tuxedos and makeup for their big night.

“All of these people are here helping them (the students) out and doing all this stuff, and suddenly they realize they’re a lot more important than they ever thought they were,” said Ivy Lanthier, project director for the school’s dorms. “That’s the big thing.”

In its fifth year of helping students at the school, the program arranges for donations of the dresses, discounted tuxes, and hair and makeup artists.

Mount Edgecumbe, which sits in the shadow of a dormant volcano, is the only state-run boarding school in Alaska. It has nearly 400 students, and about 80 percent this year are Alaska Native. Many, like Kayla, hail from small communities well off the state’s limited road system. Many schools in these rural villages don’t have proms, and ones that do aren’t at Mount Edgecumbe’s level.

Program founder Terri Bogren said she and other volunteers, mainly her co-workers at the Seattle-based Alaska Airlines, are proud of the teenagers for leaving their families and villages to get a better education, and this is a way to show their admiration.

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