Weather Forecast


Bella Project gearing up to help Willmar, Minn., girls afford the prom

Jodi Neis, left, and Deb Kleven sort through dresses on the racks in a theater dressing room at Willmar Senior High. The dresses have been donated to The Bella Project, which will loan them to girls attending Willmar's May 4 prom. (Tribune photo by Linda Vanderwerf)1 / 4
2 / 4
3 / 4
4 / 4

WILLMAR -- Attending a high school prom can be an expensive project.

A dress, shoes and accessories add up fast. Hair and nails add another layer of expenses.

For some girls and their families, the cost of it all can be completely out of reach.

That's where The Bella Project comes in.

The project is seeking donated prom dresses and accessories that can be loaned to girls attending Willmar's May 4 prom. The dresses will be loaned to girls for a $10 dry-cleaning fee or in exchange for another dress.

The Bella Project is the brain child of a group of staff members at Willmar Senior High. They include Jodi Neis, co-director of the prom and a paraprofessional; Deb Kleven, a child guide; counselor Sharon Tollefson; and Sheila Johannes, a paraprofessional.

The project will also accept shoes, jewelry, gloves, purses and other prom-related accessories.

The dresses and other items should be new or gently used, clean and in current styles. They may be dropped off at the high school's guidance office from 7:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday before March 30. Receipts are available for charitable deductions.

The dresses are being kept in a theater dressing room at the high school. More than 50 have been donated already from Camille's Closet consignment shop, community members and school staff.

The rack includes gowns in a variety of colors and styles. The dresses are in pastels, bright colors and basic black. Some were donated with matching accessories.

The program will accept dresses in any size, as the organizers hope to have a selection of dresses in all sizes. Kleven said they could use more dresses in larger sizes right now, as many in the first group are in small sizes.

Neis said they first had the idea for the dress program about three years ago. They ran out of time the first year and were able to help a few girls last year.

This year, they were able to gear up to expand the program. The flat-screen TVs in the school hallways carry announcements and are telling students about the project.

"Dresses have gotten so expensive," Neis said, and they hope the project will help girls who can't afford the cost or who have more than one prom to go to.

"It might be easier on the parents' budget, too," Johannes said.

While the program will help low-income families, "it's for anybody who wants to do it," Kleven said.

The dresses will be cleaned and kept from one year to the next. "Otherwise, every year we would be going through this process," Kleven said. The project will add new dresses each year and weed out those that have gone out of style.

For more information about the program, contact Kleven at or call Tollefson at 320-231-8321.

Linda Vanderwerf

I cover education issues for the West Central Tribune and have worked for the paper since 1995. I have worked in journalism since 1981.

Follow me on Twitter: @lindavanderwerf

(320) 214-4340