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Nonprofit The Place is giving the fun of prom to local high school students. Here’s how you can help.
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Area nonprofit The Place is hosting its pop-up “Gift of Prom” boutique at Dawson County High School to provide full prom experiences for local students. - photo by Julia Hansen

A colorful array of sequin and satin dresses line the walls, with neckties, shoes and jewelry poised in custom displays and comfortable seating placed throughout the space. 

Girls and guys alike get to confidently don formal wear while their friends and workers shower the teens with compliments. 

This year, area nonprofit The Place and staff at Dawson County High School have brought a boutique prom shopping experience directly to students who wouldn't otherwise have the chance to attend the spring dance.

This story continues below.

The Place’s annual “Gift of Prom” event gives local teens a “full-package” prom experience, from giving them formal clothes and shoes to accessories, nails, flowers and gift cards for other services like dinner. 

The Place is hosting a pop-up boutique for the “Gift of Prom” at Dawson County High School now through Friday, from 2:30-6 p.m. and on Saturday from 8 a.m.-2 p.m. 

Donations are still being accepted. People can bring prom dresses, menswear, accessories, shoes and/or gift cards for additional items to The Place of Dawson at RIC-RACK or the nonprofit’s Forsyth administrative office. For 

More information about the “Gift of Prom” or other opportunities to give back with the nonprofit, you can reach out to Youth Events and Outreach Coordinator, Sarah Tarlowski, at or (770) 887-1098, ext 250.

The Place of Dawson’s drop-off location is at its RIC-Rack food pantry and thrift store, located at 829 Ga. 9 North in Dawsonville. People are encouraged to mention the donations are for “Gift of Prom” when bringing them to the store, Tarlowski said. 

The nonprofit’s Forsyth drop-off location is 2550 The Place Circle in Cumming. 

Tarlowski said that event sponsor Northside Hospital Forsyth has collected and given prom dresses from 10 donation boxes on its premises, and an area food bank also contacted The Place to give additional gowns.

An area Mary Kay representative donated more than $1,000 in makeup products. 

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The Place gathered prom dress donations with the help of individuals and “Gift of Prom” sponsors like Northside Hospital Forsyth and a local Mary Kay rep. - photo by Julia Hansen

Amy Palmer, The Place of Dawson County’s outreach coordinator, said others have made individual donations, with Tarlowski adding that many people have gotten involved after seeing emails or posts from the high school and talking about the event through word of mouth. 

They’ve gathered about 400 dresses so far for The Place’s overall “Gift of Prom” program, which serves students in Dawson and Forsyth counties. Dress sizes collected range from 0-28, with a variety of styles from which students can choose.

Founded in 1975, The Place is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that helps people in Dawson and Forsyth counties secure basic needs and become self-sustaining over time. The Place provides clients of all ages with emergency rental and utilities assistance, clothing, food, career and skills coaching and more, according to a press release from the nonprofit.

In 2021, The Place of Forsyth County merged with RIC-Rack Thrift Shop and Food Bank to form The Place of Dawson County. 

The nonprofit’s president and CEO, Cristy Ferencie, explained that prom, which can be a gleeful time for some teens, can however be “another reminder” of a lack of finances or an adult who can take them prom shopping.

“At The Place, we believe that every person truly does have a purpose,” said Ferencie, “and we want so badly for our local youth who may feel forgotten or left out to know that they are worthy of a great prom, too. We want them to know they deserve to experience these special moments that come once in a lifetime.”

DCHS event

This is the first year Dawson County High School is hosting The Place’s “Gift of Prom” event on its campus. 

DCHS Principal Michael Negley said that her school had previously tried similar efforts on a smaller-scale basis, and local students have been able to take part in past “Gift of Prom” events in Forsyth County. 

Leading up to this year’s “Gift of Prom,” The Place was considering expanding its prom assistance program. Palmer said that Dawson County High School CBI Coordinator Ashley Caray contacted her a few months ago about helping with such a program. 

“We’re super excited about partnering with the school. We’ve served a lot of Dawson students last year, and we’re always looking to do community services in Dawson [County],” Palmer said. 

ESOL teacher Melissa Gilstrap and some of her students helped unload some of the pop-up boutique’s supplies on Monday, with Palmer and DCHS paraprofessional Emily Newton also assisting with the set up. 

Newton also helped beforehand securing a room for the boutique and scheduling times for students to visit. Palmer and others credited Newton for much of the display work, such as reorganizing the dresses to have smaller to larger sizes extend back from the room entrance along the walls in a reverse-horseshoe shape

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DCHS principal Michael Negley looks at a two-piece dress on the racks at The Place’s “Gift of Prom” pop-up boutique. - photo by Julia Hansen

Helping students

Negley called the “Gift of Prom” a “huge thing” to have on campus, since that solves any transportation issues to and from the event and lets students take part in a more comfortable, stress-free environment. 

The discrete nature of the event lets students stop by on their own terms, whether that’s during or after the school day, Negley said.

“It’s going to give them a whole prom experience,” she added. 

“We tried to get it to where kids don't have to go into Cumming or into Alpharetta to get dresses or tuxedos,” Caray said. 

Bruson added that the flexible appointment times can be helpful for participating students who either work regular jobs or are in the high school’s work-based learning program. 

“It was so humbling when my students came over,” Gilstrap said of her student participants. “I have English learners, [so] when they realized these dresses were free…they’re now so excited.”

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“Yes to the Dress” signs were created for students to pose with after finding their dream dresses during Dawson County High School’s “Gift of Prom” event. - photo by Julia Hansen

Newton shared the story of one girl giddily FaceTiming her mother to show off the prom gown she chose. 

“It has brought tears to my eyes,” Palmer said of the event. “It’s just so amazing. 

Some of them have asked, ‘When do I have to bring this back?’, and I say, ‘Well, you don't have to. It’s yours. You can keep it.’”

Palmer also shared the story of a male student who visited the boutique. 

“My friend had just donated a tuxedo. He (the student) was strutting out in it. It fit him perfectly…and he’s a senior, so he’s never done something like this,” Palmer said. 

“Prom is supposed to be magical, so you want it to be magical for everybody. You want it to be a magical night,” Caray said. “It’s something they otherwise wouldn’t have, that some may take for granted…that’s a huge gift for a kid.”

Palmer smiled as she talked about the boutique event’s chance to be a “confidence builder” for teens, who can find “something that’s uniquely theirs.” 

“To be able to pick out a dress [or tuxedo] brings that confidence and that dignity,” she said. “That’s one thing; we wanted this to be a true boutique experience…a milestone experience.”

“There’s such a difference [between] if you choose not to go versus you really can't afford to go…then these kids are able to tell their kids about when they went to prom and are able to bring such a happy memory about getting dressed up and having fun.” 

The Place will also host the “Gift of Prom” at the University of North Georgia’s Cumming campus next week. DCN’s partner publication, Forsyth County News, will report on that event’s location and dates.