In the United States, high school proms held in junior and senior years are rites of passage, ceremonial functions alongside taking the SATs, getting a driver’s license, and consuming vast quantities of what the cafeteria ladies claim is meatloaf. But for students in the urban core, financial hindrances can sometimes make that night to remember seem less certain.

Or that is until the Providence Teachers Union stepped up to the challenge.

Debbie Pilkington has for 13 years now helped administer Providence Princess, a program that helps students get outfitted with formal clothes and accessories that will let them dress to impress on their special night. “We provide gowns, shoes, and jewelry to high school students in Providence who are going to their prom. Every year it is held in April a couple weeks before school vacation so if the girls or boys don’t find anything at the prom dress big giveaway then they can go out over school vacation and hopefully find something there,” she says.

“Every year the building delegates from the Providence Teachers Union hold a dress-down day in their building and all the proceeds come back to the Teachers Union and I go out and I buy prom gowns, shoes, and jewelry at local retailers,” Pilkington continues. “I usually shop all year round.”

Here is a video from last year’s distribution.

“We have outfitted over 3,400 students in Providence since I have been organizing this,” she says. “Every year there’s a huge line outside the Providence Teachers Union office on that Saturday and they come in, they get to choose a gown or they find a gown, then they go into the accessory room and get shoes and jewelry. Last year we had Miss Teen Rhode Island and Miss Rhode Island show up to help the girls choose a gown and it was a great event. We also collect gently-worn gowns as well and we can outfit girls from size 0 to about 36-38 so size is not a matter here. We have cocktail dresses and long ball gowns and they’re just beautiful dresses.”

This year will be a little tight, says Pilkington, due to the closure recently of a major donor, La Botegga dress shop in Johnston, “but we can do it with the donations from the Providence Teachers Union, they did an amazing job collecting money. It is tight, we are on a budget, but we make it happen and every year we outfit minimum 200 students.” This year the event will be on April 8 from 9 am to 1 pm at the Providence Teachers Union building on Corliss Street in Providence. Those who would like to make a donation can contact the PTU at (401) 421-4014, who have a fund exclusively set up for the Providence Princess effort. Donations can be in cash, gift cards for vendors the PTU patronizes such as Domaine Designs, or clothing/accessories that would be used by students.

The past six months have been quite eventful for the student population. Between an ongoing austerity regime, a complete collapse of the Department of Human Services owing to the UHIP fiasco, and the results of a presidential election that were quite astounding, one night filled with happy memories is certainly owed students in Providence. “Providence students are resilient, they’re amazing kids and I’m fortunate that I get to work with them every day,” says Pilkington.

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