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Dressing It Up

They called it Operation Prom Dress.

While a high school prom can be an expensive proposition, this year girls at a West Virginia high school in Appalachia were able to put cost concerns aside, thanks to a helping hand from students at a private school for girls in New York City.

Students from the 420-student Hewitt School in Manhattan, where the yearly tuition is $20,000, collected nearly 450 new and used dresses—as well as shoes, jewelry, purses, and makeup kits—so that their counterparts at Clay County High School in Clay, W.Va., could celebrate their prom in style.

Many of the dresses were donated by New York City retailers such as Ralph Lauren. A group of Hewitt students, parents, and teachers delivered the items early last week and set up a special prom boutique.

"I have always felt that prom is a big expense," said Cindy Willis, the principal of the 639-student Clay County High School. Students hold fund-raisers to pay for the event itself, but Ms. Willis said that many girls can't afford to go to the prom because of the high cost of dresses.

The average yearly income for Clay County families is $21,000, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Clay, with 600 residents, is located in a coal-mining and logging area where unemployment is 12 percent. Ms. Willis said that makes the Clay County school district the second poorest in the state.

The idea for the makeshift boutique stemmed from conversations between Ms. Willis and Dena McKelvey, a Hewitt parent. Ms. McKelvey started the New York City-based McKelvey Foundation with her husband, Andrew McKelvey, the chairman of TMP Worldwide, which operates the Web site.

The foundation, which provides college scholarships to rural high school seniors, has done some work in Clay County in the past.

Linda Gibbs, who heads the Hewitt School, said the interaction has created a bond between students from the two schools.

—Marianne D. Hurst

Vol. 21, Issue 33, Page 3

Published in Print: May 1, 2002, as Take Note
Web Resources
  • Listen to more of the story and hear from Cindy Willis, principal of Clay County High School, and Linda Gibbs, head of the New York City-based Hewitt School, from the Canadian Broadcast Company's radio show ""As It Happens." (Requires the Real Player.) The April 23, 2002, edition is divided into two parts. Part one contains the story of Operation Prom Dress. (NOTE: You must download Part one to listen to the prom dress story; it's the fourth one on the recording.)

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