Mount Edgecumbe, which sits in the shadow of a dormant volcano, is the only state-run boarding school in Alaska. It has nearly 400 students, and about 80 percent this year are Alaska Native. Many, like Kayla, hail from small communities well off the state's limited road system. Many schools in these rural villages don't have proms, and ones that do aren't at Mount Edgecumbe's level.
Program founder Terri Bogren said she and other volunteers, mainly her co-workers at the Seattle-based Alaska Airlines, are proud of the teenagers for leaving their families and villages to get a better education, and this is a way to show their admiration.
"They don't have the family support to help them do this. So we're kind of like fairy godmothers here to help them make sure they can look as good as they want to go to their prom," she said.
Bogren got the idea for the program when she lived in Sitka and helped a niece, who was attending the school, get ready for the prom. That's when she realized other girls weren't going to the dance because they didn't have a dress.
Bogren moved to Seattle after she got a job as an account specialist with the airline, which had just celebrated its 75th anniversary in 2007. She decided to see if anyone would be willing to donate her party dress from the anniversary ball for the girls at Mount Edgecumbe.
"I know lots of people buy expensive dresses and only wear them once," she said. "So I figured this would be a good opportunity to ask for donations."
That first year, 30 dresses were donated. That number has increased to about 130 this year, and the girls get to keep the frocks they pick.
The main booster for the program, Bogren solicits donations while talking to people on airplanes, in airports, at work. The program has a signature identifier: During the prom, all the volunteers wear tiaras, but Bogren sports one throughout the year to attract attention to her program.
The number of volunteers also has grown, from Bogren and five others the first year to about 40 this year. The volunteers are Alaska Airlines or Horizon Air employees, and their family and friends from across the Pacific Northwest. The volunteers include professional hairdressers, nail artists, even a master tailor.