4-H prom dress fundraiser builds skills and opportunities

Kewaunee County 4-H Teen Association members model dresses ahead of the sale at Luxemborg-Casco High School.

Anyone who’s been a teenager knows how important it is to look your best. A Kewaunee County 4-H youth group is right on top of that with a fundraiser that’s morphed into a service project.  

In mid January, the Kewaunee County 4-H Teen Association sold nearly half of the 400 dresses consigned at their 6th Annual Prom Dress Sale. The dresses, consigned for $5 which goes toward group activities, range from $15-$400. But the sale does much more than raise money — it serves the community while helping young people develop skills that will serve them throughout their lives.

The Teen Association members certainly have their work cut out for them. The 25 youth, junior high schoolers to one year after high school, call the shots — with adult supervision, of course. Ahead of each sale, the group strategizes how to accomplish a multitude of tasks. Through projects like the dress sale, youth gain confidence, knowledge and life skills.

“They build and staff an assembly line. It has to work like clockwork,”  says Jill Jorgenson, Kewaunee County 4-H Youth Development Educator, who advises the group.

Teen Association members set up and execute systems for taking dresses from consignment to the rack and from the hanger to the checkout. Ahead of the sale, held in the Luxemborg-Casco choir room, sellers purchase a form and list dress details, like size, color and price. Teens photographs each dress and enter it into inventory. The information is transposed to a cloth price tag and safety pinned to each dress. These tags are sturdier than the paper alternative and less likely to detach and become lost. Dresses are numbered matching a call ticket and organized by size.

Then the youth decide how to display the dresses for sale them. Near choir practice rooms that double as fitting rooms, an attendant and a volunteer seamstress stand by to give advice about tailoring the dresses.

At the checkout, the teens check dress tags against inventory, bag them and take payments. Then theyupdate the inventory and prepare a cash envelopes for the seller. After spending Friday afternoon and Saturday setting up and selling a few hundred dresses, Teen Association members re-order the unsold dresses by consignment number. Sellers pick up their money or dresses and the young people return the choir room to its original state.

“People come in and say, “I wouldn’t be able to have a dress if there wasn’t a sale like this”,” says Jorgenson. “It makes it accessible for people who wouldn’t be able to go to prom, — to have an experience that’s part of high school.”

But some sellers never show up to pick up their dresses. Instead, they donate them to the Teen Association’s dress closet. Local students can borrow one of about 100 dresses from the closet to wear to a dance, free of charge. The group is currently devising a plan to make the closet available to differently-abled students in the county, who will have their own prom this year.

Believe it or not, there’s even more positive impact from this activity.

“The feelings of teamwork and camaraderie that 4-H Teen Association Members gain are beyond the lifeskills and the service they’re doing for the community,” Jorgenson says. “They’re building these positive feelings about themselves and each other.”