By Lindsay Peyton
Opening the right door at Huntington UMC could transport you into a boutique, where dreams really do come true. Inside Priscilla’s Closet, vibrant arrays of dresses hang, while jewelry and accessories are displayed on tabletops. Fitting rooms and mirrors stand at the ready. The former classroom was transformed into a shop to help girls in need find gowns for prom. With time it grew – and now remains available anytime a girl is in need of formal wear.
The operation is the brainchild of church member Katrin Taylor. She explained that she joined a women’s group Priscilla’s Circle.
The conversation often focused on expanding the group’s outreach, Taylor explained. “We would cook for one another, and we would talk about what else we could do to get the community to know us,” she said.
And the women did not want to limit their work inside the church walls. They searched for a way to do more.
About five years ago, Taylor’s mother-in-law showed her an article about a similar program elsewhere that provided prom dresses. “We brainstormed – and we realized we had the space for it,” Taylor said. “It just grew from there.”
An empty Sunday school room was just what the ladies needed. “With wires and blackout curtains, we built dressing rooms,” Taylor said. Priscilla’s Closet was born.
Then the women began to spread the word throughout the church and on Facebook. Finding donations was the first order of business.
The second was establishing a timeline. Taylor reached out to different area schools. “When is your prom, first and foremost?” she asked.
The volunteers decided to open a couple of months before the big dance. “That way they have plenty of time to look with us,” Taylor said. “And if they don’t find something here, they have time to go somewhere else.”
She contacted school counselors to help find girls in need. They passed the news on to students about the church in town that cared about their prom. The counselors told them, “You’re welcome to go and pick out a dress.”
Word spread, and donations piled in. “It grew over time,” Taylor said. “Some dresses are secondhand, and some are brand new with the price tags still on.”
The high schoolers enjoy trying them on and having the same experience as in a store. “They talk, and their best friends come,” Taylor said. “They let others know that we have pretty dresses.”
There are all types of dresses, colors, fabrics and cuts. “We have short, long, lacey, bling-y, whatever you are looking for,” Taylor said.
The sizes range from 00 to 24. Girls sometimes bring their mothers with them, and others have two or three friends tag along. “They are welcome to try on as many as they like, and hopefully they’ll find something,” Taylor said.
In 2020, girls came to pick out their gowns, but prom was canceled due to COVID-19. The following year, prom was scheduled again. Huntington UMC offered individual appointments to allow everyone to stay separate and maintain social distancing.
This year, proms were held in early April. Some area girls are only able to attend thanks to Priscilla’s Closet. The volunteers serve three school districts, with an active catalog of about 200 dresses. More donations pile in all the time.
Prom isn’t the only time the doors to the shop open. There are Valentine’s Day dances, weddings and other formal events. “We focus on prom, but if someone needs a dress for any other occasion, we’re there,” Taylor said. “Whoever needs a dress can come look.”
When a girl finds the right dress, it’s hard to beat. “When you see that smile from those girls, that’s a beautiful thing,” Taylor said.
If there’s a hem that needs to be adjusted or a zipper that needs to be fixed, the church’s Loose Threads sewing ministry takes care of it. “They’re willing to do that for the girls,” Taylor said. “We’re trying to give them the whole experience.”
Ultimately, the focus of Priscilla’s Closet is to let students know that someone out there cares about them, even if they have never met. The women’s group hopes to instill confidence in the girls – and help them experience God’s love.
“Our goal was to make people aware of our church – and to let them know we’re actually doing something,” Taylor said. Now, people all over the area know that this congregation cares about youth in the community.