Kenzie's CLOSET empowers teenage girls, makes prom special

Sabrina Peelman says she loves her city and helping others. She’s a junior at Reading High School and has lived in Cincinnati her whole life, and she serves as a prime example of the ways in which community giving comes full circle. 

“I like how close everybody in my town is, how everybody knows each other,” Peelman says. “It’s really nice being able to have familiar faces around you at all times.” 

One way Peelman helps to give back to her community is through the work she does with the Interfaith Hospitality Network.

“It’s a program that gives homeless families a place to stay until they can get back on their feet and find a job," says Peelman. "It helps them reestablish their lives again. Normally I serve the families dinner, and I normally am in charge of playing games with the children.” 

Peelman says she loves to give back, but she’s also experienced the other side of things. 

With prom season coming up, Peelman knew she would need a dress, but she also knew that formal dresses are expensive and that purchasing one would be a financial strain on her family.

“I’m adopted by my aunt and my uncle, and my aunt, she’s an accountant, but she raised three kids that weren’t really hers, so it’s always been kind of hard on her, and my uncle is a service manager, and he doesn’t really make as much money as he should,” Peelman says. 

So Peelman went to Kenzie’s CLOSET, a nonprofit that provides free prom dresses, shoes and accessories to girls in need who deserve a special night at their prom. 

“When you first walk in, you see a lot of pink—the couches are pink—and there’s a little waiting room,” Peelman says. “Then when you go back into the area with the dresses, there are dressing rooms and a bunch of shoes on the left, and to your right there are just bunches of dress racks and all these colorful dresses—short ones, poofy ones, some on mannequins—it’s very pretty and organized.”

Peelman says she’s excited for prom this year because the theme is “Hollywood,” and the students will get to cruise down the Ohio River on a boat, complete with a red carpet and even “Academy Awards.” 

What will make Peelman’s prom even better is that she found a dress she says she fell in love with. 

“It was the second dress I tried on," she says. "It’s strapless and has a sweetheart neckline, and it’s long and it’s a teal color, and it has a few beads going down it. It’s like a mermaid dress, so it’s very slender."

Since Peelman was able to find a dress at Kenzie’s CLOSET, she won’t have to wear the old dress that belonged to her sister, which she says is outdated and would have had to be taped down because it would have been "a little big.” 

Instead, she’ll attend prom with her boyfriend of six months who’s been her good friend since the age of 3. 

Peelman says her favorite part of finding a dress was the overall shopping experience. 

“The lady I had, she took me and asked me what kind of dresses I liked and what was my favorite color, and she was very friendly and she’d ask what type of dresses I didn’t like, and then we’d try to move away from that type, and it really made it a lot more fun,” she says. “It was very simple, and they were very understanding—you could ask them anything about the dress, and they would know how to answer it.” 

According to Peelman, a lot of high-school girls, and even some of her friends, wouldn’t want to accept a used dress. “They feel like they’re privileged or something—I don’t know how to describe it,” she says. But it was important for Peelman to do what she could to help her family. 

“Anytime they see me happy, they’re ecstatic, so when they found out I found a dress at Kenzie’s CLOSET that I really liked and they didn’t have to pay for all the expenses of prom, it made them so happy,” Peelman says. “They’re really proud of me.” 

Do Good: 

Donate a gently used dress or apparel to Kenzie's CLOSET. 

Volunteer to help Kenzie's CLOSET operate during shopping hours, or consider coordinating a dress drive.

• If you are a student in need of a dress, or know of a student in need of a dress, contact the school's principal to see if she qualifies to shop at Kenzie's CLOSET. 

By Brittany York

Brittany York is a professor of English composition at the University of Cincinnati and a teacher at the Regional Institute of Torah and Secular Studies. She also edits the For Good section of SoapboxMedia.
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