Ashley Chu, co-chair of the Prom Project, helps low-income seniors make it to their prom.
Ah, high school prom – that rite of passage attended by students during their later years of high school. It’s a black-tie night out for teenagers, who, in many cases, spend the months beforehand agonizing who their date will be, what they will wear and who will comprise their entourage for the evening. But there are those who worry about other things, like how they’re going to afford to go to prom in the first place.
While almost all high schools have an annual prom, it’s not an inexpensive endeavor. The ticket for the dance alone can cost upwards of $100, not to mention the dress or tuxedo, hair and makeup, dinner, and transportation. According to one study conducted last year, the average spent on prom was $1,139 – a number that far exceeds the means of many families. And while these concerns were the last things on 14-year-old Ashley Chu’s mind six years ago when she got involved with Prom Project (a program within the YWCA of Orange County), they are now very much a part of her reality as chairperson of the organization.
The articulate Cornell University student with her sights on medical school is, in some ways, an unlikely cheerleader and coordinator for Prom Project. Growing up in a comfortable family in Fullerton, Chu admits that philanthropy wasn’t at the top of her priority list as a teenager. “It was a typical, ‘You’re in high school and you need some kind of extracurricular activity’ decision,” says Chu. Her neighbors Jaehee and Angie Kim suggested that Chu and her mother get involved as a way for Chu to fill out her resume for colleges. “So I went, and not to sound cliché, but it pretty much changed my life,” she says.
Chu, who is in her third year of college in New York, now co-chairs Prom Project with her mother, Eunice. Via video conferencing, she meets regularly with the organization’s advisory committee to decide on administrative matters and improvements for the project going forward. Prom Project’s main annual undertaking, Boutique Day, takes place in the spring, and is a one-day event where high school senior girls from low-income families are treated to a day of prom prep, from picking out their prom dress and accessories to getting their hair and makeup done. Dresses and accessories are donated by A’GACI, National Charity League, private individuals, or bought at discounted prices by Prom Project from supporters like David’s Bridal, and hair and makeup are provided by Marinello Schools of Beauty and Toni & Guy for day-of hairstyles.
Professional photographers are also on-hand to capture the post-transformation look. “Our goal is really to give these girls an often once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to feel like a princess,” says Chu. “It is a day for them to forget about all their worries and to focus only on pampering themselves; we often fail to realize that this simple task is not possible for all girls.”
Now, on to worrying about who they will choose as their date…
Walk the Walk
Find out how to get involved with
Prom Project on the organization’s website.
See how Prom Project has made a difference
in the lives of 170-plus girls helped each
year by watching a video of Boutique Day
on the organization’s Facebook page.
Type “prom project” into the search bar.