For 16 years, a boutique in the Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic District School Board has ensured students are dressed the part for their precious moments.
The Precious Moments Boutique, located inside the St. Mary Catholic Education Resource Centre, is a donation centre where students can pick from an assortment of gently used formal wear, free of charge.
The project is the brainchild of Social Worker Kelly Duffy-Kariam, who saw a need for prom and Holy Communion outfits for students in Equal Opportunities schools. For families struggling with financial issues, the cost of a new dress or suit can add to the already existing burden. As a result, Duffy-Kariam realized some students were missing out on important occasions simply because their families did not have the funds to support it.
After enlisting the help of a local consignment store to help outfit a handful of deserving students, Duffy-Kariam decided to hold an annual system-wide collection and open a boutique in-house.
"Our Catholic community has been so very generous," she said. "We get donations that include prom wear, suits, First Holy Communion apparel, shoes, purses, makeup, jewelry, ties, and shirts. We are grateful for everything."
The success of the boutique relies not only on donations, but its army of volunteers, which include Janice Robinson, Rosanne Sogan, Luisa Pietrantonio, Gail Bankowski, Mary Louise Ceroni, and Kathy Davidson.
"We have two seamstresses available at our open houses and my volunteers make every single child and parent feel like a million bucks without judgment," said Duffy-Kariam.
"Often outfits need a bit of adjusting, here and there," said Davidson. Together, she and Pietrantonio work with students and help create a customized fit.
"I love working side by side with all the Precious Moments volunteers, helping each client pick out an outfit that delights them," said Davidson. "It’s the best feeling when you see the smile on their face because they have found the perfect outfit."
Ceroni has been volunteering with the boutique for six years and says it's the shift in confidence that warms her heart the most.
"I have seen young girls stand taller, head raised, smiling when they see themselves. Young men who have never had a suit holding their head high with such confidence," said Ceroni.
"I love seeing the young girls pick out Communion dresses. We let them try on as many as they want. They twirl and dance in front of the mirror having fun."
While students have a range of outfits to choose from, Robinson noted that the boutique is low on accessories.
"We could use more shoes, handbags and jewelry to complete the look of these young girls' big event," she said.
"And more plus size formal wear," added Ceroni. "It's hard to watch girlfriends coming together and one might be a little larger than her friends and we have nothing in her size."
The boutique will be collecting donations during the week of February 5. Those wishing to donate can drop off gently used items at the nearest Catholic elementary or secondary school.
"We have clothed hundreds of kids and now many other boards have adopted our service," said Duffy-Kariam.
"We are about creating a positive experience for everyone."
The Precious Moments Boutique will be holding an open house on March 7th and May 16th from 3:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. on the 3rd floor of the St. Mary Catholic Education Resource Centre (209 McNab Street Hamilton, ON). All are welcome.