By Darren Lum
Chapters of achievement still need to be recognized now more than ever said Jenn Abbott of Make Dreams Come True, a community initiative to provide free formal clothing to graduating students.
Abbott, who is a mother of four, said it’s a difficult time for everyone with the pandemic.
She believes this year’s graduation will be virtual and it’s yet another loss in a series of losses during this difficult time.
“Basically, it’s like their graduation is being taken away from them. It’s only going to be virtual. So that means they’re not going to have a dance. They can’t walk across the stage. Most of their family won’t be able to be there in person so Chantal and I have discussed this, as we discussed it last year as well,” she said, referencing Chantal Smith, a photographer that has offered her services through Make Dreams Come True since the start.
“We want to be able to capture those memories. I mean this is a milestone in a child’s life that should be remembered. So, if I can get them dressed up and make them feel good about themselves and feeling happy about their accomplishment and getting a picture to capture that, then by all means I will keep this going. If we have the pandemic for 10 years down the road, I will still be trying to offer the services that we offer,” she said.
Its’ been seven years since the community initiative started, which has collected thousands of donated formal clothing from dresses to suits, with complementary articles such as dress shoes, purses and ties, and outfitted graduating students from adolescents to young adults an opportunity to wear a formal outfit for dances and ceremonies.
Although there weren’t any conventional graduation ceremonies to wear formal clothing last year, Abbott still facilitated the opportunity to dress formally for modified outdoor events and for photos with family for the visual keepsake of the academic highlight.
Another benefit to Make Dreams Come True, Abbott said, is there really isn’t an in-person option to shop with the recent lockdown.
“During the pandemic it’s more important than ever because a lot of the people can’t take their child into a store and go shopping. With what I do is I try to [provide] options for them. They can take it home and try it on and go from there,” she said.
She adds the effort is all about giving a young person a reason to smile.
If what she provides doesn’t work for the student, she said the search will continue “until we find an outfit that is special and perfect for them.”
Last year, Abbott, who has the autoimmune disease, colitis, implemented COVID-19 protocols when providing outfits to safeguard the students and their families receiving clothing, but her and her family at home, which includes an 11-year-old, five-year-old and a baby.
Unlike last year she will be accepting donations with a “contact free” practice of having donations placed on a designated table outside her house.
“If people are at home and they’re cleaning out their closets, or a parent cleaning out their kids’ rooms because they no longer live there, [please donate]. So they might have stuff in the closet they want to donate and that would be perfect for Make Dreams Come True. That’s why I put it out there,” she said.
Although in the past, the community initiative included a full range of services, it’s still dependent on what is permitted to open by the health unit, but Abbott said she has already established promises with local businesses such as salons from previous years.
“I’m just trying to give back to the community. I’m trying to give back to the parents because at the end of the day prom and grad dresses are expensive. With the pandemic, a lot of people don’t have the money to go out to spend $400 or $500 on a dress,” she said.
Ideally, she said students interested in her service are encouraged to contact her by phone or through Facebook, which she prefers. Include details such as size, colour preferences, and photo examples depicting ensembles or articles of clothing.
Abbott encourages people to contact her much sooner than June when graduations occur to ensure graduating students get what they want though.
“It’s better if people message me sooner just because I have everything stored away and it’s in bins. So the sooner they can do that the better and I can start looking. I might be able to pull five dresses and then I would bag them up and I would tell the person to come pick them up. Then they would take them home. Try them on. Whatever outfit they don’t end up using they would just bring it back to me and that’s it,” she said.
Make Dreams Come True also offers a photo session from local photographer Chantal Smith.
“If you get an outfit from me then Chantal will offer a photo session for them and their family,” she said. Abbott adds the number of people permitted to be in the same place for the photo session will be limited because of COVID-19 restrictions. Coordinate with Smith for more details.
After seven years, Abbott said this initiative should be done everywhere and that it isn’t possible without the support from the community, whether it’s the donors or the many businesses, who contribute services or free products.
“I really think every town should be doing this because it’s so easy and so simple. It gives back to the community. I mean it is a community effort because without the donations I wouldn’t be able to do what I do,” she said.
Those interested can call Abbott at (705) 286-0906 or message her through Facebook at her personal account (www.facebook.com/jennifer.abbott.12) or Make Dreams Come True.