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Program is about more than just dresses

DRPS Gowns for Girls now accepting donations to help Durham's girls get to prom

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Const. Joylene MacNeil, middle, stands with fellow constables (clockwise from top left) Heather Wilson, Stefanie Puckrin, and Jennifer Kavanagh. The Durham cops are part of the Gowns for Girls fundraiser, collecting dresses to help send Durham’s young women to prom.

By Joel Wittnebel/The Oshawa Express

For the third straight year, Durham police are asking you to dig into the back of your closets – what you find back there could help send a girl to prom.

The third-annual Gowns for Girls fundraiser, organized by the Durham Regional Police Service (DRPS), is now seeking donations of your used dresses.

“We leave (the dress), it goes into the back of our closets and we forget about it, and we all do that,” says Const. Joylene MacNeil, who started the fundraiser in 2014.

DRPS is asking you to pull that dress out and donate it because, right now, many young women in Durham Region can’t afford to attend their own prom.

MacNeil has been a police office for 15 years, and since 2014 has worked as a youth officer in schools around the city. Through this work, she realized that many girls couldn’t afford the cost of a prom dress.

“They didn’t want to put the pressure on their families,” MacNeil says. “People have financial restraints, they didn’t want to add that pressure, so they were opting not to go to prom, which is really disheartening because prom is a milestone event for all of us…We all look back and can remember our prom, no matter how old you are.”

So MacNeil knew she had to do something to change it.

In the first year, MacNeil explains they only reached out to the members of DRPS for donations. Last year, the call was extended across the region and was held over two nights, one in Oshawa and one in Ajax. To date, the event has helped more than 500 girls get to prom.

This year, on April 27 and 28, girls can attend Bobby Orr Public School at 7 Waterloo St. in Oshawa, and get their own makeover of sorts from the DRPS.

“We act like their personal shopper,” MacNeil says. “It’s really a positive interaction for us and them.”

Along with the dress, girls get outfitted with accessories and everything they need for the big night, including personal tailoring, courtesy of the skillful hands of the moms of DRPS officers. Minor alterations can be done as well.

Gowns for Girls is also seeking donations from generous hair and nail salons to help get the girls ready on the night of.

While making sure the young woman of Durham don’t miss out on one of the biggest nights of their high school careers, MacNeil says it’s about more than just the dress.

“Self-esteem in youth is so important,” she says. “So I think in saying that, I knew that although we’re giving them a dress and we’re giving them shoes and we’re giving them jewellery, we’re giving them so much more.

“It’s interesting to watch the kids when they come in and how they are, then when they leave, how they are. It’s almost like it’s changed them, and it may only be just for that night, but it’s interesting just to watch that transformation,” she says.

And the girls aren’t the only ones, MacNeil says, as the officers involved feel the emotional weight of what they’re accomplishing.

“We leave there and we’re just so overwhelmed, and so happy,” she says.

For further information on the event or to donate, contact gownsforgirls@drps.ca or visit the event’s Facebook Page.

Donations can also be made to Sketchley Cleaners at 82 Thickson Road South in Whitby. The dry cleaners have been a dedicated partner of the event, cleaning every dress received.