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Belle of the Ball

By Barbara Wrenn

Belle of the Ball, sponsored by Anton’s Cleaners, collects, cleans, and distributes prom dresses to girls who would otherwise be unable to attend their prom. More than 1,475 girls have received a prom dress since the program began in 2005.

The prom boutique takes place at Simmons College. Each year, selected high school juniors and seniors are able to choose from more than two thousand gently worn dresses in various trendy styles. Each girl has a personal shopper, trained by Mary Lou Andre of, to help her find the ideal dress.

In addition to dresses, shoes and accessories are also available. Throughout the event, raffles for awards of various prom-related services take place. Makeup and hair advice is offered to the girls in order to help them complete their look, and each girl leaves the boutique with a professional photo of herself in the gown she has chosen.

Danielle Kempe, one of this year’s coordinators, said, “It’s a very moving experience. Many girls had never owned a gown before.” Kempe believes volunteering for this event is rewarding: “As a volunteer you get to see a tangible result. You often hear, ‘I never thought I could look this pretty.’” The organization has received numerous thank-you notes in the mail and Facebook messages from girls who have participated.

Many organizations, companies, colleges, and volunteers help out before and during the boutique. Before the event, volunteers collect, sort, and organize the dresses. During the event, three hundred
volunteers help by registering the girls, organizing fitting rooms, working on the boutique floor, and making minor repairs onsite.

Lasell College fashion merchandising major Rhonda Jaber volunteered as a personal shopper at the 2010 Belle of the Ball. “The most rewarding part was when each girl finally found her perfect fairytale dress. You could tell how grateful and happy they were,” said Jaber.

The coordinators try to improve and expand the event each year; Kempe’s goal for this year’s Belle of the Ball is to serve four hundred young women. One challenge the organizers have encountered is that some girls sign up but do not show up for the boutique. They are always trying to find ways to better schedule people, Kempe said. In addition, the organization would like to offer more shoe and jewelry options. Shoes can be a challenge because they need to be new. Kempe is hoping to raise money so that this year, more girls can leave with shoes.

Kempe said they are hoping to offer three thousand dresses at the boutique this year. Although there are only four hundred girls participating, it is necessary to offer a wide range of sizes and styles.

“The most challenging part was finding dresses toward the end of the event. Most of the dresses were taken and the selection was limited, especially in terms of sizes,” Jaber said. Anton’s Cleaners is a family-owned business with forty-three locations in eastern and southern New Hampshire.

Anton’s Cleaners had already been running a similar program, Coats for Kids. When they saw a need for prom dresses, “they knew they had the unique ability to be able to clean the gowns and felt a sense of community

Anton’s works with many partners and volunteers throughout the community to make the prom boutique possible. Referral partners identify and recommend young women who would benefit from this event; guidance counselors, social service representatives, teachers, and church leaders help with the referral process. Jordan Furniture is a corporate sponsor promoting and collecting gowns; FOX 25, KISS 108FM, and
JAM’N 94.5 all help to promote the event.

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