Dressing down the cost of graduation

Keely Dakin
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Making grad doable one dress at a time

Wesmor Community School is once more providing a less expensive option for graduates in need of formal wear.

Chenoa Waditaka, 18, modeled her pink, sparkly, fantasy dress on Friday. This is what she will be wearing for her graduation in the spring. Behind her is an array of the dresses on display at Wesmor Community School, all for sale for $25 each. Students from Wesmor or any other graduating program in the city and beyond may take advantage of the opportunity to buy their grad dress through Wesmor's grad dress program. The idea is to shed a portion of the monetary burden of graduation by giving students an option other than the $500 price mark that commonly comes with a graduation dress.  All of the dresses are donated by individuals who no longer need them or by companies, shedding their sample gowns.

A few years ago, members of the school, headed by Kathy Nagy, decided that the price of paying for a graduation dress was prohibitive to many of their students as well as others around the city and beyond.

So they began to request donations of graduations-style dresses, which could then be resold for $25 to current graduates. Shoes are also sold at $5 a pair.

Eighty-two dresses and 36 pairs of shoes went through their doors last year. On top of that there were 14 alterations done to dresses for a firmer fit.  

About 30 of dresses went to graduates from Wesmor. The rest went to graduates from Carlton to PACI to graduates who came in from out of town.  Even Grade 8 students sometimes take advantage of the program.

“It’s open to really anyone in the city and some come from outside of the city,” said co-organizer Jennifer Brown.

While originally an opportunity for the girls to get their gowns, organizer Jennifer Fines says they really want to provide tuxedos, jackets and ties for the boys as well.

Jolene MacFie, 19, graduated last year and was one of the 82 young women to buy her dress from the Wesmor collection.

As part of promoting the program, the school hosts a runway fashion show of several of their dresses in April. Young women come from around the city to check out each year’s clutch of flounces, bows, shiny sheaths and classic gowns.

Last year, MacFie modeled.

“We got to try on, I believe like six dresses -- each of us girls -- and one of the dresses I modeled out, I really liked it. So I used it for my graduation,” she said.

“It was really fun trying on all those dresses, to see what fit me and to see what size I was. And we had to go out and buy shoes and jewelry that match the dresses and that was really nice,” MacFie said.

Graduation is a big deal to many young people. One that comes with a hefty price tag, which many cannot afford.

“When I was graduating, I had my daughter Elizabeth. I didn’t really have a lot of money for a lot of things, so having the dresses for $25 really saved me a lot … I had enough money for everything and everything went pretty good for me and I didn’t have to really stress out about anything,” MacFie said.

Before buying her grad dress at Wesmor, MacFie did some comparative shopping.

“I did go dress shopping and I looked at all the dresses …  $500 to $1,000 dollars – even more …  A lot of dresses I really wanted, but I couldn’t afford them, which kind of just made me feel bad. Because I’m not rich, I don’t make a lot of money or anything because I have a daughter and I just usually stay home and look after her. So I don’t have that much money. Like I would like to spend that much money on a dress but the money just wasn’t there,” MacFie said.

For one of my students to have to pay $500 for a dress, you can guarantee that’s taking food from the rest of their family or bills are not getting paid. Something takes away from it. That’s why this is just a perfect opportunity to have in the schools system,” Jennifer Brown, teacher and organizer

The costs of graduation are multilayered. From buying formal wear and keeping on top of school fees to paying for photos and celebrations.

All school fees must be up to date in order to graduate.

“A lot of girls had like $300 in school fees (to pay),” MacFie recalled.

Getting dolled up in finery for graduation is something students dream about for years and it should be doable for everyone, Brown said.

“Graduation, it’s like a wedding on a smaller scale. And a lot of the students in this school and in this area of Prince Albert and all over Prince Albert, they can’t afford that dream. It’s a hardship that would mean they were taking away from something else from their family. And I think that’s why this program is so important. For one of my students to have to pay $500 for a dress, you can guarantee that’s taking food from the rest of their family or bills are not getting paid. Something takes away from it. That’s why this is just a perfect opportunity to have in the schools system,” Brown said.

They are always looking for more donations. Particularly needed are dresses in the larger sizes. Many of the dresses currently on hand are for slim figured girls, while many of the women looking are a little curvier, Brown said.

“Definitely a variety of sizes are needed,” she added.

“Some girls are pregnant and when they’re trying to get fitted it can be really difficult,” Brown said.

Also at the top of the needs list is formal wear for the young men.

Fines encourages the donation of any graduation or bride’s maid dress, as well as costume jewelry or anything that might help brighten a grad’s ensemble.

To make a donation call Wesmor Community School at (306) 764-5233 and ask for Jennifer Fines or Jennifer Brown or just drop donations off at the office.

Money raised goes back to helping pay for alterations and dry-cleaning.

Organizations: Wesmor Community School

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