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Prom Boutique: Young Ladies from Rizzo and Harrowgate PAL Centers Shop for Free Prom Attire

The line continually grew as teenage girls patiently waited in the dressing room for their chance in front of a mirror. When they finally did, many saw themselves adorned in sequin dresses, while others were in sleeveless sheath multi-colored gowns asking themselves, “is this the dress?”

The dress, of course, would be the one they plan on wearing to the biggest dance of their high school career — the prom.

The Police Athletic League (PAL) organized a “Prom Boutique” for close to 200 girls who are enrolled in one of it’s 18 centers across Philadelphia. The PAL Centers provide educational, recreational, cultural and character building activities after school. On Thursday, March 3rd, officers from each PAL Center — including Harrowgate PAL Center and the Rizzo PAL Center in Riverwards — transported about 14 teens to the Prom Boutique, where each young lady got the opportunity to choose one dress free of charge.


/Danielle Nelson

Leslie Reyes, a teacher at the Harrowgate PAL Center, said she has been attending the Prom Boutique with her girls for the past three years.

“Most of these young girls, their parents can’t afford their dresses,” Reyes said. “So it gives them an opportunity to have a nice dress for their prom.”

Lisandra Santiago, 18, is enrolled in the PAL Center and was excited to go to the Prom Boutique because her prom is on June 2, just a few months away.

“My aunt knew I was struggling to buy a prom dress, so she signed me up to get me some help,” Santiago said.

As she was looking for dresses, Santiago had a few colors in mind. The high school senior tried on a sleeveless black and blue floor-length silk dress and it was perfect.

“I love black and blue, they are my two favorite colors and I knew that was what I wanted to wear to prom,” Santiago said. “I was just looking for those two colors.”

The Prom Boutique has been on the calendar of every PAL Center since 2010 when Nancy Roundbehler, the organizer of the event, said a grandparent from one the PAL Centers asked if she can get her child a prom dress.


/Danielle Nelson

After that, Roundbehler started the event with the help of different volunteers like Wawa and donors from clothing stores like Dress Up Time.

“I think it’s just good to give back and see people pitch in and be apart of something that makes kids happy,” Rounbehler said.

The ‘Prom Boutique’ is just one event that falls under character building, in which the PAL Center tries to teach students how to put forth a positive image both personally and professionally. So aside from helping teen girls look beautiful for their prom, they also educate the students on how to build a resume, financial investment and personal hygiene among other things.

The PAL Centers cater to kids 6 years old and up and provide after-school recreational activities. Officer Ernie Rehr, who has been the director of the Rizzo PAL Center for 25 years, said he mentors and coaches the students. Students are provided help with their homework and afterwards they can play games.


/Danielle Nelson

“Some of the games they play are basketball, wrestling, soccer, golf and flag football…,” Rehr said. “We also have dancing classes for dance recitals and christmas plays.”

Angelina Wainwright, a volunteer at the Rizzo PAL Center said she looks forward to the annual Prom Boutique because “it’s girl-on-girl interaction, like without little brothers, dads or other guys budding in.”

Although the Prom Boutique may be the highlight of some of the girls stint at the PAL Center, Reyes said the PAL is a safe haven for most of the students there.


/Danielle Nelson

“It helps the community kids stay out of trouble and off the streets,” Reyes said. “A good environment is best for them to grow up in.”

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