By Erica Slutsky | Communications Manager
For three days at Temple Emanu-El, spanning donations, setup, and two boutique days, Project Prom not only brings people together, but grew out of the same need for generosity and community service that emboldens Tikkun Olam at Emanu-El. And so, this past April, close to 300 high school students from underserved communities gathered in Wise Hall to shop for free dresses, shoes, evening bags, and cosmetics.
Project Prom started “about ten years ago,” when it was originally suggested by Susan Kaufman, now chair of Tikkun Olam Committee. At the time, Lynda DeLott served as Tikkun Olam Chair and started the program with Gala Gear, an organization run by women at Price Waterhouse who had asked to use the Temple Emanu-El space. This early version of Project Prom was only accepting gently used items, such as dresses and accessories. Although Gala Gear ceased operations in 2015, the Tikkun Olam Committee continued the drive once a year during prom season. “It was pretty successful the first year,” Kaufman adds, though attendance would grow exponentially after that.
In fact, Project Prom almost didn’t become a regular mitzvah since the program itself seemed unsustainable. Most temple members didn’t have prom dresses and formal accessories in their own closets that they could readily donate. Kaufman suggested continuing the event, but only on her advice that they accept new items and solicit donations from outside vendors. Because she reached out to them, “It just blossomed.” Members of the Tikkun Olam Committee started contacting their connections in the garment and beauty industries, with sizable donations coming through today.
Due to COVID-19, Project Prom could not run for the last two years. The program currently functions in partnership with Park Avenue Synagogue, helping its guests by providing a new wardrobe to them for free. Setup is also an important part of the mitzvah, with music played on a sound system and photos from previous years projected on a screen in Wise Hall. Previously, it was held in Blumenthal Hall. With the expansion of the program, its organizers needed an open area to accommodate larger dressing rooms and a shoe wall. So, they made it an event – a boutique shopping experience that benefits the participants and volunteers. Each group of girls shop for about an hour and a half. Previously, a food spread was also provided, though volunteers packed grab-and-go snacks for this year’s attendees.
Susan Kaufman noted with pride, “We couldn’t have done it without the volunteers. Without them, this event would not be able to take place at all.” The committee reaches out to the whole congregation to help. Some help girls select dresses; some attend to dressing room needs, zipping up dresses; some run the handbag department, while others handle checkout.
To Kaufman, Project Prom is a unique way to introduce members of the Emanu-El community to the many ways Tikkun Olam truly gives back to the larger New York community.
Notes of Gratitude
I just wanted to send a personal thank you for the wonderful dresses and accessories that you donated to us. We will be distributing directly to the programs that asked for dresses and it is a thrill to be able to give them such wonderful items. They are not even expecting the extras! Once again, your generosity humbles me, and I wanted to be sure that you know how much you and the Temple are appreciated for all of the amazing work that you do.
Director of Community Engagement
The Children’s Village
Thank you so much again for having us! It was truly an incredible experience, and I’m so glad our school got to be part of it! We are definitely interested in being part of this amazing event again next year, if you’ll have us!
Thank you so much again,
Amanda, Urban Assembly
I was waiting until last night’s gala at the NYC Ballet to take a picture of the girls in the gorgeous gowns that you and Project Prom provided. WOW!
First of all, the experience of picking the dresses was so fun – each girl felt so special and taken care of, as if they were in Bergdorf’s with a private shopper! And then, last, night, to be among some of the best-dressed people in the city and to feel like they belonged – I can’t tell you!
Youth in foster care don’t have a lot of opportunities to shine or to feel special and, thanks to you, they did both! So many thanks to you and your hardworking team for helping to change the lives of underserved youth throughout the city!
Lynn, Foster Pride