Rebecca Deczynski believes that every girl should have an opportunity to feel like a princess for a day.
Looking for a way to help underprivileged girls experience the glamour and glitz of prom night, Deczynski stumbled upon Becca's Closet - a website that helps give dresses free of charge to teens who otherwise may not be able to afford them.
"I think every girl should have an opportunity to go to her prom and fel like royalty for a day," the 17-year-old Cranford High School senior said.
Standing in a small room tucked in the back of the cafeteria, Deczynski sorts through dozens of prom dresses that have already been donated. Some are traditional, with lots of tulle, lace and satin; others are sleek and modern with floor-length hemlines and some are a bit more daring. There are sizes to fit teenage girls of all shapes and sizes, and all of the dresses are clean and in very good condition.
Deczynski started the Cranford chapter of Becca's closet two years ago as a sophomore. She occasionally enlists the help of teachers and classmates to help her carry an sort through all the the donated dresses, but she has primarily handled the responsibility of running the chapter on her own. Often, she'll spend some time after school or during a free period working to organize the dresses and respond to emails from people requesting dresses. Next year, two sophomores will take over when Deczynski goes off to college.
"I didn't want this to be something that fades into obscurity," Deczynski said, adding that she hopes Becca's Closet will continue at CHS for years to come.
The well-spoken teen said her biggest challenge so far has been finding a place to store the dresses that people donate. The first year, the dresses were kept in the high school choir room. Now, they are kept in a small room with a staircase leading to the school auditorium.
Last year, more than 1,000 formal dresses were donated to the Cranford chapter of Becca's Closet, with many of them coming from a bridal shop in Linden. The CHS senior has collected more than 2,500 dresses since she started the chapter two years ago. Usually, Deczynski said, most of the donations and requests for dresses come through the Becca's Closet website. Those who wish to donate or girls who are in need of prom attire can search the site and email Deczynski.
Although the majority of the dresses that people request are for prom, there have also been times when young girls are seeking clothing for other formal or semi-formal events such as graduation. With the cost of a prom dress average anywhere from $300 to more than $1,000 depending on the brand and style, Rebecca's Closet has become an important resource for numerous girls each year.
Becca's Closet was created as a legacy to 16-year-old Rebecca Kirtman. Becca, a cheerleader and honor student died as a result of a tragic automobile accident on Aug. 20, 2003. In the Spring of her freshman year at Nova High School in Davie, Fla., Becca launched a dress drive to provide prom dresses and accessories to high school girls who could not afford to purchase them. In her memory, Becca's family continues the effort today. There are now chapters in 33 states throughout the nation, including five in New Jersey.
When prom season draws to a close, Deczynski said the leftover dresses are donated to schools in places such as Newark and New Brunswick, where there may be several girls in need of dresses for prom, homecoming or even eighth grade dances.
An aspiring fashion journalist who currently writes for the CHS newspaper, The Spotlight, Deczynski has been looking forward to attending her senior prom for years. With just over a month left before the CHS prom, Deczynski and her classmates are making final preparations for the big event and she said everyine "is getting really excited."
The senior said Becca's Closet isn't just about helping girls find dresses, but about making them feel special and glamorous for a day. Deczynski said the chapter does not ask for proof of financial hardship and the distribution of dresses is kept confidential. Girls can visit the Cranford "closet" and select one of the dresses that are in stock.