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.
“They don’t have the family support to help them do this. So we’re kind of like fairy godmothers here to help them make sure they can look as good as they want to go to their prom,” she said.
Bogren got the idea for the program when she lived in Sitka and helped a niece, who was attending the school, get ready for the prom. That’s when she realized other girls weren’t going to the dance because they didn’t have a dress.
Bogren moved to Seattle after she got a job as an account specialist with the airline, which had just celebrated its 75th anniversary in 2007. She decided to see if anyone would be willing to donate her party dress from the anniversary ball for the girls at Mount Edgecumbe.
“I know lots of people buy expensive dresses and only wear them once,” she said. “So I figured this would be a good opportunity to ask for donations.”