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SPOTLIGHT: Teacher helps teens with style

Associated Press Modified: October 10, 2012 at 6:15 am •  Published: October 10, 2012

BLOOMINGTON, Ill. (AP) — Four years ago, a Bloomington High School student asked a teacher to stop bugging her about prom. She couldn't afford a dress, so she wouldn't be going.

English teacher and senior adviser Gloria McElwain wasn't deterred: She got that girl a dress and she went to the dance.

The story got around. Since then, McElwain and various volunteers have given away 370 dresses to BHS students for homecoming and prom, even weddings.

The effort, now known as BHS Bloomington House of Style, has grown to include attire for boys; McElwain also has helped some people with clothes for State Farm Insurance Cos. internships.

"We had many, many students who weren't attending homecoming and hesitant to attend prom because they couldn't afford the attire. So, we began collecting donations of gently-used formal dresses from people," said McElwain.

Several other high schools, including Normal Community and Tri-Valley, have similar programs for homecoming or prom, and business is brisk right now with homecoming season in full swing: Homecoming dances are this weekend at BHS, NCHS, Tri-Valley and Olympia; Central Catholic's is next weekend. Normal West and University High have had their homecomings.

McElwain estimates the average prom dress costs $230. Some girls choose to get a dress at BHS, not just because of the cost, but also because they aren't comfortable shopping elsewhere, she said. Volunteer students, who help display and sort the dresses, also act as personal shoppers for students wanting some help.

"I just love to see the girls' faces when they find the perfect dress," said Ginny McElwain, a BHS student and daughter of the program's founder.

"It's fun to dress up," added Gloria McElwain, noting that red and pink seem to be the most popular colors this year. There is a current need for dresses in the middle sizes.

Bloomington House of Style currently has about 120 dresses in stock, and continues to accept donations for future events. Last year, 56 dresses were given away for homecoming and prom. The dresses are free, and students can decide if they want to keep them or pass them on.

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