Designer Barbara Bates' Prom Project

May 7, 2009 10:15:38 AM PDT
Self-taught fashion designer Barbara Bates was born in Chicago. She went through Chicago's public school system and graduated from Marshall High School in 1962. But getting through school was a struggle, as Barbara was a teen mother. Now an internationally-known designer, Barbara has not forgotten a promise she made while an alternative school while pregnant. Every year, Barbara makes prom dresses for underprivileged or hard-to-fit young women from inner-city schools in Chicago. The annual prom giveaway began after Barbara gave a speech at a local alternative high school and offered free prom dresses for those girls who reached their goal of "graduating against the odds." After hearing about that speech, a local businessman donated $1,000 to help the designer's effort and the Barbara Bates Foundation ( officially born. That year, Bates donated 14 specially-designed gowns to those young women with challenging situations. Since then, the Foundation has grown to also include formal wear for deserving high school boys. Now every year, Bates makes customized dresses for these students who could not even dream about attending their high school prom because of financial reasons. This year it is difficult for Barbara to make her goal of providing prom wear for deserving teens and she's looking for some help. Barbara is excepting donations through her foundation.

The Barbara Bates Foundation strives to uplift the spirits and attitudes of Chicago's disadvantaged inner-city teens, says Barbara. The Foundation has discovered that the donation of a designer gown or tuxedo can go a long way towards encouraging teens to want to "really be somebody" and set goals for themselves, she adds. Upon graduation, 80% of students helped by the Bates Foundation go on to two- and four-year colleges. The Foundation's long-range goals include funding scholarships, job-training programs, self-esteem enhancement, and youth empowerment workshops for young adults.

To nominate a student or make a donation, contact