U of M student group helps high school students enjoy their graduation

If you’re wondering why there were girls dressed to the nines parading through University Centre last week, rest assured, it was for a good cause.

PRAXIS, a student group at the U of M, held a fashion show last Tuesday to support a collection drive of graduation dresses for girls who otherwise would not be able to afford to purchase one.

The group, which organizes service learning and volunteer opportunities, has been collecting gently worn formal dresses, shoes, purses and accessories since Jan. 24 for the organization formerly known as Gowns For Grads. Over twenty dresses have already been collected, and the group hopes to see more come in before the last collection day on Feb. 7.

The collection is being held to support the goal of ensuring every girl is able to attend their graduation, regardless of their financial situation.

Nour Rashid, program coordinator of the student group, said her group was really excited to support a local cause that every high school graduate can relate to.

“We decided this would be a very good initiative for our local community because we’ve been focusing a lot on international issues, like child soldiers and the flooding in Pakistan,” said Rashid

The fashion show was held as part of UMSU’s Celebration Week on Jan. 25 in the Fireplace Lounge of University Centre. The show featured fifteen volunteer models from PRAXIS wearing donated dresses or ones of their own, in order to promote the collection drive.

“We believe that all girls should have a right to celebrate their special day and feel good about themselves during their graduation,” said Rashid.

Rashid said she thinks the fashion show, which featured DJ Spazz and jewelry by Laura Rempel, was a success.

“Our main goal was to get the word out and let people know what we’re doing so that we could make this collection as big as possible and help as many girls as we possibly can,” she said.
Veronica Alexanders, a University 1 student, thought the event was extremely well received by students.

“A lot of people are clapping, but it’s the fact that they came that’s important. [ . . . ] The fact that they came out to show their support is amazing,” she said.

Ritika Khatkar, a member of PRAXIS, said the event was exciting and heartwarming.

“Even though I was helping out backstage, I was just as excited to see the whole show come together. All the models had a great time and onlookers seemed to enjoy it as well.”

“I can’t imagine not being able to buy a grad dress,” said Meaghan Guzzell, a second-year science student. “I just graduated a few years ago, so I remember how it is.”

The Winnipeg organization formerly known as Gowns for Grad is currently going through a transition period and a reformatting of their organization.

Gary Brenner, who is one of the co-chairs of the initiative, said the collection drive will continue despite the changes, due to the dramatic need of Winnipeg students. The organization was originally started a few years ago by Linda Bulka, the principle of St. John’s High School.

“The real reason the organization was started is that most of these kids, who are either immigrants or in some cases aboriginal, come from tough beginnings. [ . . . ] For them to graduate from high school is such a wonderful achievement,” said Brenner.

However, Brenner said that many female graduates didn’t plan on attending their graduation because they couldn’t afford to buy a dress.

“The crux of this is that we were very concerned about everybody having the opportunity to at least attend their dinner, because it’s an important time in everybody’s life,” he said.

Brenner, who is also in the clothing business, was also able to collect new dresses from customers willing to donate. The organization, which is made up solely of volunteers, collected 600 dresses last spring for students graduating in 2010.

Donations can be dropped off at the UMSU office (101 University Centre) or at the Office of Student Life on the second floor, between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m.. A second collection will be held in March for students living in residence.

Donations will be given to students at St. John’s High school or saved for the program next year.

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