Prom Dress Project becomes a countywide success

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In spring 2009 Ventura County disc jockey Nancy Rodriguez noticed a trend among many of her friends.

A lot of them had sons and daughters in high school, excited about attending their first prom.

“But they were struggling because of how expensive it is,” the Fillmore resident said. “Especially for the girls—they have to get the dress, their makeup and their hair done. They’d end up having to spend a whole lot of money for just one night.”

Then one day, Rodriguez, who does a lot of volunteer work in the community because of her job in broadcasting, heard about a grassroots prom dress recycling program at Pacifica High School in Oxnard.

Cuba Montero, a counselor at the school, had co-created a program called Ariel’s Closet—where girls could comb through a treasure trove of donated prom dresses and take one home for free.

“I called (Montero) and just picked her brain,” Rodriguez said. “I thought, ‘This would be awesome— to do something like this but make it available to the whole county.”

Shortly after that meeting, Prom Dress Project Ventura County was born. With the help of friends and staff at Pacifica High School that year, Rodriguez was able to collect about 150 prom dresses, which she then gave away to high school girls throughout Ventura County.

Now that the program is in its third year, Prom Dress Project is gaining real momentum.

“The funny thing is, I’m already involved with so many other organizations in the area,” Rodriguez said. “But I really felt like this was my calling. I went to three different proms when I was in high school. And this just felt like something I needed to do.”

Montero, who’s been running Ariel’s Closet and similar programs at high schools throughout the county since 2004, said connecting with Rodriguez was the “perfect combination.”

“I initially had it at the grassroots level,” she said. “But (Rodriguez) was already working with United Way and the Youth Leaders Society, so she had already had all the community resources to expand this.”

Not only has the program helped hundreds of girls in the county save money on prom, it has also encouraged teens to give back their dresses after they’ve worn them, Montero said.

“What I like about it is that it fosters awareness about giving to others—not just receiving,” Montero said.

Finding a dress

This year, Prom Dress Project had drop-off locations throughout the county. And as of this week, the team has more than 500 donated prom dresses—all of which will be available to Ventura County teens at a dress fitting event on Tues., April 10.

Although the one-day event takes place at Pacifica High School in Oxnard from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. next week, high school students and their families from all over the county are invited to attend.

Besides having racks of free dresses to choose from, promgoers will get to participate in makeup and hair styling demos. The group will also be giving away a variety of prom-related raffle prizes, such as gift certificates for tuxedo rentals, restaurants and corsages.

Four Seasons Cleaners in Oxnard donated their services to dry clean all 500 dresses, so each one is ready for wear.

“Since we’ve gotten such a positive response, we hope to eventually do these fittings at other schools in the county in the future,” Rodriguez said. “And for those who can’t make it to the event on April 10, they can just contact me. We won’t turn anybody down.”

Montero said any dresses remaining from the event will be available to other schools in the county that want to hold their own fittings on campus.

“We’ll share,” she said. “The more we can distribute, the better.”

Give and take

Rodriguez said community response to Prom Dress Project has been an “overwhelming” success.

Last year the group collected about 300 dresses, about half of which were taken home. This year she expects an even bigger turnout.

“I’m not sure if people are out there purchasing new dresses to donate, but this year we got a lot more brand-new dresses with the tags still on them,” she said. “And the rest of them are in great condition.

Montero said she enjoys hosting the dress-fitting event because many of the girls discover styles they hadn’t thought about before.

“They come in with one idea about what kind of dress they want, but they try out other things too and leave with something totally different,” she said.

It’s also a big relief for many parents, who might not have the means to purchase a dress that would likely be worn only once.

“It just makes sense,” Montero said. “We don’t always have to be so wasteful.”

Prom Dress Project’s annual fitting event takes place on April 10 from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. in the cafeteria at Pacifica High School, 600 E. Gonzales Road, Oxnard.

For more information, visit or send an email to Rodriguez at

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