GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Ottawa Hills students are ready for prom after finding the perfect dress with a little help from the community.

More than 350 used dresses are going to some Grand Rapids Public Schools students for free with prom right around the corner.

GRPS teamed up with the Grand Rapids Public Schools Foundation for the project.

“It’s really important for us to break down this barrier and see girls have their high school experience enriched,” said Olivia Marquez, GRPSF’s administration and database coordinator.

It all started last fall.

“We had a donation of 200 dresses from one donor who just wanted to see something like this happen,” Marquez explained.

The foundation was on board, giving out used dresses just before homecoming to students at University Preparatory Academy.

“It went really well,” Marquez said. “The girls loved it. They found a huge increase of participation at their homecoming dance. That was just the cherry on top for us. We were for sure gonna keep going.”

So they did it again for prom this year, getting more dresses than they ever imagined. GRPS administrators, a bridal shop and college sororities helped out.

“I wasn’t expecting to get all these,” Marquez said. “So yeah, it’s awesome.”

They were free for the taking last week at University Preparatory Academy and Union High School. The final stop was Wednesday at Ottawa Hills High School.

Ottawa Hills Senior Celesce Coleman helped pass them out and even got two for herself.

“This one was more like a date night, summertime look,” Coleman said. “I was liking it. It was just my type.”

A Grand Rapids Public Schools student picks out donated prom dresses. (April 19, 2023)

Her volunteering was fitting: she’s going to study fashion design at Western Michigan University this fall.

“I also thought about it as it’ll be nice to help other girls with me knowing my taste and helping other people,” Coleman said. “I’m like, ‘Yeah, it might work out.’ So why not volunteer? I like it. it makes me excited. When the girls feel like they’re beautiful in the dress, it makes me feel happy because I helped them with that look.”

“We’re all happy and gonna have a great night at prom,” she added.

Meshell, an Ottawa Hills junior, also found a good match.

“Many people don’t have the money to afford dresses like this,” she said. “This is just a good way of giving back to the community.”

She said her classmates are “really starting to appreciate the school more” because of the program.

“They’re trying to give back to us for everything,” Meshell said. “They’re trying to make this prom the best prom.”

It’s an effort focused on breaking down barriers to make sure everyone can dance the night away.

“We didn’t recognize this was such a big barrier for girls to go into the dance,” Marquez said. “You have your dress, your shoes. You gotta get your hair done, your makeup done. Then you have dinner, pictures, that’s a lot of stuff. It can really rack up especially now that dresses are getting even more expensive.”

GRPSF is done collecting dresses for this year, but they’re hoping to do this again and expand the effort in the years to come.

“It’s my favorite part of my job now, getting to see students just enriching their own experience,” Marquez said.