A Cinderella for every prom
Abby's Closet makes dreams come true for thousands of girls
At the top of the list of the happiest people in the world must be Abby Egland and her mother, Sally.
Already super happy, this mom and daughter dynamic duo of West Linn will only get happier because they have discovered the greatest formula of the universe: The more people you make happy, the happier you will be.
That is because with Abbys Closet they make hundreds of teenage girls dreams come true by providing them with beautiful gowns and whatever accessories they need for a magical prom experience.
When you go to the Abbys Closet warehouse near Lake Oswego you find Abby and Sally already hard at work for their next Abbys Closet Prom Gown Giveaway in 2015. The giant room is overflowing with gowns, and mom and daughter are wearing hot pink t-shirts, which symbolize their project. This makes Abby laugh because pink used to be positively her least favorite color. But pink is a good color for symbolizing happiness.
The unlikely idea for Abbys Closet started 10 years ago when Abby was packing to get ready for college. She saw several of her prom dresses, symbols of some of her happiest high school experiences, and she sighed.
I wished I could give a prom dress to every high school girl, Abby said. I wished there was an organization that could do that.
Before she knew it, Abby and her mom WERE that organization. They were modern day fairy godmothers and they loved it.
Sally started calling around about nonprofit organizations that gave away prom dresses and the results were nil. So she talked to her boss at Nike about starting her own nonprofit.
He said it was not that hard, Sally said. I foolishly believed him. I started filling out the paperwork.
Certainly creating a new nonprofit proved to be no jog in the park, but things started falling into place for Sally and her daughter. Almost as fast as Cinderellas pumpkin turned into a coach, Abbys Closet was a reality. Private individuals and corporations proved eager to fill up the racks with prom dresses.
We collected 300 gowns, Sally said. By November 2004 we had become a nonprofit. We started emailing our friends and we had 1,000 gowns by April. We set up drop-off sites. It was strictly grassroots.
It turned out to be this brilliant idea, Abby said. There were so many people with so many gowns, and everyone who had been to a prom had such a good time and they wanted others to have a good time. They wanted to give their dress another chance to dance.
But Sally and Abby Egland are not cockamamie idealists. They are terrific workers, brilliant organizers and incredibly adept at imparting their vision to others. Their big event is held every spring at the Portland Convention Center, and it is an occasion for turning on klieg lights and sprinkling stardust. Instead of thousands of screaming teenage girls rushing into the cavernous facility, the big night is run with the highest degree of organization and decorum. There are 150 racks filled with gowns of all sizes and colors; 7,000 gowns are available and 2,500 gowns are given away in 13 hours.
They walk out with the dress of their dreams, Abby said.
Not only that but the girls also have free access to shoes, purses, wraps, accessories, anything to promote the ultimate prom experience. Admission to the big event is simple: Girls just need to show their high school ID.
We want to respect the dignity of every girl, Sally said. We want no girl to be embarrassed.
This is the biggest prom event in the Northwest, Abby said. Girls camp out at the convention center to get in.
It turns into a party with fun, music and our volunteers in hot pink shirts, Sally said. There are no paid employees. Theyre all volunteers.
The volunteers may not get paid but there are big benefits to be gained from working with Abbys Closet. Many of the volunteers are students who learn about budgets, leadership, fundraising and media relationships.
Abby said, We love to throw our kids in front of cameras because theyre cute kids and they get to use their brains. A lot of them have gotten college scholarships because of their involvement with us.
Sally and Abby both have fulltime jobs, and after giving away some 22,000 gowns you might think they would be a little weary about Abbys Closet. But they have only just begun. They want everybody to think pink.
We want more! Abby said. Were doing a big push and outreach along the Pacific Northwest coast and Southwest Washington. This is our passion.
Now is the perfect time to remind people this is the perfect time to donate dresses, Sally said. The idea of women helping women has huge appeal in the Northwest.
After a girl has been sleeping on the street all night, they love to come in and put on a gown and have people tell them theyre gorgeous, Abby said. They are so encouraged. They come out twirling in their gowns.
This all started in West Linn and Lake Oswego, Sally said. To think were here 10 years later, its because of the support weve received.
For more about Abbys Closet go to the website abbyscloset.org. And get happy.
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