An Eastside high-school student decided to use money he would have spent on prom and instead throw a nice dinner party for women at a local homeless shelter. At Newport High, the idea has caught on fast.
Months before his senior prom, Isaac Chan saw the dollars adding up.
A rental tuxedo. A corsage for his date. A dinner somewhere fancy.
The 18-year-old senior at Bellevue’s Newport High School also watched his classmates on Facebook posting pictures of their dresses and comparing price tags, which at times topped $500 for a gown most girls would wear once.
A disgusting amount of money, Chan thought.
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A question burned: Am I really going to remember my prom night five years from now?
Driven by that frustration — and by a habit of doing good things for other people — Chan decided to take the money he might have spent on prom and instead throw a dinner party at Hope Place, a women’s shelter in South Seattle where he had volunteered years earlier.
Call it a prom, of sorts, for women who might never have danced at one of their own.
“I just really wanted to restore some sense of dignity,” Chan said. “To be able to come to this nice place, have someone ask you whether you want freshly cracked black pepper on a salad, maybe for the first time in several years — I think that’s just awesome.”
The idea is buzzing through Newport High: Students in the culinary program volunteered to cook the food. A school jazz ensemble will play music. A student decorating club is in charge of transforming the shelter’s utilitarian cafeteria into an elegant space.
And more than $2,000 has rolled in to support Chan’s idea. A neighborhood lemonade stand inspired a friend with video skills to make a short film about the event, which was then posted on a fundraising website. Now, as word continues to spread, Chan said, some students who want to help out just hand him cash in the hallway. Newport students and shelter staff have collected more than 100 dresses — some from Nordstrom — for women at Hope Place to choose from.
Christina Reid, a supervisor at Hope Place, handles a lot of requests from charity groups wanting to donate meals to the roughly 70 women living at the shelter — whose experiences range from substance addictions to domestic violence — and their children.
It’s rare, however, that teenagers approach her on their own, asking to volunteer. And a prom? Never.
“Everyone’s excited about it,” Reid said.
Despite some initial skepticism about whether a bunch of students could pull off such an elaborate event, Reid said that Chan’s persistence, thoughtfulness and attention to detail convinced her. “He didn’t just want to do something good,” she said. “He wanted to do it right.”
Chan brought four friends with him when he visited the shelter recently to scout the cafeteria, where the prom is scheduled to happen Saturday. They counted tables, hunted for electrical outlets, measured the height of a food bar, and asked questions of Reid, who repeatedly assured them that if they could dream it, they could do it. This is their show, she told them.
“We could have a drink station,” Chan said, pointing to a countertop. Then, turning to his friends, he asked, “Where would you guys put a photo booth?”
Even those who dislike the status symbols of prom still see it as a rite of passage — a culmination of the American high-school experience.
“I really want to (go to prom),” said Sharon Tak, a sophomore who will help decorate for the dinner at Hope Place. “Even if I don’t get asked, I would honestly go.”
“We still feel like it’s the last big thing that happens to us (in high school),” said Ramon Jiang, a senior who will cook at the event. “To us, it’s a big deal.”
Even Chan, with all his doubts, has come around and decided to go to his prom after all.
Mostly, he said, because his girlfriend wanted him to.