Prom queen: Cumberland teen collects, distributes dresses for those in need

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CUMBERLAND — Going to the prom in a beautiful dress is the dream of many high school girls.

But for some, it can be a prohibitively expensive fantasy.

Rachael Kurland, an 18-year-old from Cumberland, saw to it that many girls who might not otherwise have dresses would be able to attend this year’s proms in style.

The Greely High School senior, whose own prom was last Saturday, gathered used prom and formal dresses from girls throughout southern Maine throughout the winter and spring. Pratt-Abbott donated its dress-cleaning services, and on April 25 Kurland held a “dress-shopping” event at Portland High School, where girls in need of dresses could take one or more of the garments home for free.

Kurland had heard about donatemydress.org, a national network that brings together local dress-drive groups throughout the country, and decided to use the concept in the Portland area.

She noted that people spend a lot of money on prom dresses, and only wear them once.

“Prom is really expensive, and that’s hard for a lot of girls who don’t have the money to spend,” Kurland said. “I just kind of thought about how sad it would be to have to miss out on prom, which is like the iconic high school experience, especially for girls … because the dress is too much money.”

While Kurland only expected to collect about 30 dresses, she said she received nearly six times that number, all in good condition, from people of various ages. One person even went out and bought new dresses just for the event. Kurland and her sister, Sarah, a Greely sophomore, also donated about 10 of their own dresses.

“It was just nice to see how many people wanted to help,” Kurland said. “… I was just blown away with how generous people were. I really wasn’t expecting for it to be this successful.”

Girls could drop off their dresses at Pratt-Abbott’s various locations, where the garments were cleaned, stored and transported to the Portland event.

Pratt-Abbott “really went above and beyond any expectation I had,” Kurland said.

Kurland also credited a social work intern at Portland High School, Rachael Weiner, with being “a go-to person for the event.”

She said she chose Portland High in part because of the large immigrant and refugee population in the city.

“I was … thinking that there may be a lot of girls at that school who would need a dress like this,” Kurland said. “So I thought it would be nice to do it in a location that they could easily get to.”

The project was also Kurland’s senior project at Greely. Completing it allowed her to finish classes two weeks early; she will spend that time creating a road map for the project’s continuation. Pratt-Abbott is storing leftover dresses for next year’s event, she noted.

“I really had no idea that there were so many girls in Maine who would have trouble affording a prom dress or just prom in general,” Kurland said. “I was surprised at how many girls came to the (dress-shopping) event, and how many were just so incredibly grateful to get a dress.”

She said she plans to hand the project off to friends who will continue it after she has graduated, and that they in turn will pass the torch along.

The donated dresses could be used for non-prom events, too, Kurland noted, like weddings and homecomings.

“If you buy one dress for each event, it really adds up. So I thought it’d be nice to let (the girls) keep the dresses, so that if they ever needed a dress for another event, they wouldn’t have to be concerned about spending money” another time, she said.

Kurland will attend Tulane University in New Orleans this fall. It’s a school that appeals to her deep interest in community service, she said, and may pave the way to her continue to help others in greater ways.

Alex Lear can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 113 or alear@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @learics.

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Rachael Kurland, a Greely High School senior, held a “dress shopping” event last month at Portland High School, where girls for whom a prom dress would be too expensive could take one or more of the garments home for free.

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A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.