Compassion in fashion

March 19, 1993

Judging by the heated resistance from some students to the state's new community service requirement for high school graduation, one could get the impression there isn't a student left who thought about anything other than dates, facial blemishes and the latest fashions.

Then, one comes across Ellen Barth, a 17-year-old junior at Atholton High School in Columbia, who is taking something as seemingly extravagant as prom wear and using it to help the less fortunate.

Miss Barth is the founder of Project PROMise. Its goal is to resell old prom dresses and use a portion of the proceeds to support Grassroots, which runs a homeless shelter in Howard County, and the Domestic Violence Center, which operates five shelters for battered women and their children. Miss Barth's shop has opened in the Wilde Lake Village Center in Columbia, with space donated by Columbia Management, a Rouse Co. subsidiary.

Putting her novel idea to work, the shop will accept dresses that are donated or placed on consignment.

Prices at the store will be half the original. Between 15 percent and 100 percent of the proceeds will go to the charitable agencies.

Originally, the sale was limited to Atholton students, but it has now been expanded to all county high schoolers. (Dresses will be on sale from tomorrow to April 4. For information, call 992-3622.)

This is the kind of good work that is truly infectious. Already,

several local businesses have come to Miss Barth's aid, offering special discounts on prom-related merchandise and services to students who buy, sell or donate dresses.

Miss Barth may be "just" a high school student, but her values appear grounded in the kind of social conscience many adults might emulate. She said she came up with the idea of Project PROMise when she thought about the "dilemma of the high school girl" with a closet full of party dresses, each worn once, just hanging there.

"Dresses are an extravagance and a luxury and there are people that don't have enough to wear," she said.

Because of the caring, intelligence and initiative of this high school student, and the help of many others who will also take part in Project PROMise, a few people will have more to wear, as well as a place to sleep. Wouldn't it be nice if such compassion and civic-mindedness were increasingly in fashion?

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