Project Prom’s generosity to encourage teens reverberates year-round

SAN ANTONIO — Ashley Johnson will never forget her high school prom dress.

It was a long sky blue dress with a halter neck sewn with rosettes. There was one major catch: the $150 price tag. She couldn’t afford it, nor could her mother, Gloria Coleman. Accessories, hair, a ticket, shoes, a purse and a scarf brought the total to $300, which was not in the family budget.

So she found a part-time job. She worked three months at Six Flags on weekends, ticketing eight to 12 hours a day. There were long drives early in the morning, either in the car with his mother or in two or three buses.

Johnson arrived at Fox Tech High School for her prom, draped in layered fabric the color of a beautiful summer day on a lingering spring night. Just like his pride in turning a fantasy into reality.

“I didn’t want to miss it,” Johnson said. “A lot of girls miss prom because of the expense. They miss that rite of passage.

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Eight years ago, Johnson and her husband, Rodney, founded Project Prom Dress San Antonio so that teenage girls could have a high school prom experience. In 2017, they extended the service to boys.

The organization provides formal wear and accessories for free – the teenagers keep everything. Ashley Johnson said she’s outfitted more than 600 San Antonio teens since 2015.

Johnson juggles life at home, a full-time job with the San Antonio Independent School District, studying online at Southern New Hampshire University for a bachelor’s degree and her project.

Project Prom Dress San Antonio founder Ashley Johnson is seen on Tuesday among the formal dresses and shoes her nonprofit donates to high school teens who can't afford the cost of prom dresses and other formal occasions.

Project Prom Dress San Antonio founder Ashley Johnson is seen on Tuesday among the formal dresses and shoes her nonprofit donates to high school teens who can’t afford the cost of prom dresses and other formal occasions.

William Luther, Staff / Staff

The association’s reach extends beyond the school’s spring gala. They have helped teenagers attend banquets, fashion shows, graduations, homecomings, military balls and quinceañeras.

Some past recipients have been crowned homecoming princess and prom king.

The project is an entirely voluntary effort. Johnson said she is grateful for the support of board members, partners, sponsors and community donations. A long-time partner, San Antonio Threads, serves the same teenage population and shares resources. This non-profit organization provides free new clothes to young people aged 12 to 21 who are in foster care, homeless or in need of support.

“She’s doing a fantastic job,” said Cathy Hamilton, 58, CEO and founder of San Antonio Threads. “So many young people can’t afford formal dresses. I have a lot of admiration for her.”

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A 22-year Air Force veteran, Vincent T. Davis embarked on a second career as a journalist and found his calling. By observing and listening to San Antonio, he finds intriguing stories to tell about ordinary people. He shares his stories with Express-News subscribers every Monday morning.


When news of the project spread via social media, the response from the community was swift. The Johnsons met with donors at locations around town to pick up dresses. They quickly passed their closed storage shed. For the past four years they have operated out of the Woodlawn Pointe Center for Community across from Jefferson High School.

The second-floor suite resembles a wall-to-wall haute couture boutique. Boxes of designer shoes rise to the top of the door. Accessories fill the baskets of trolleys on wheels. Dozens of lockers are overflowing with dresses in fine taffeta, ruffles and velvet.

Fittings take place on Saturdays from mid-March to May. When the teenagers arrive, the volunteers help them as personal shopper.

Johnson is grateful for donations from local high-end stores, such as 300 dresses from Alamo Bridal and 12 clothes racks from Macy’s at La Cantera.

Most of the inventory comes from residents.

The flowing skirts of some of the Project Prom Dress San Antonio dresses are seen on Tuesday.

The flowing skirts of some of the Project Prom Dress San Antonio dresses are seen on Tuesday.

William Luther, Staff / Staff

“It’s about giving to those teenagers who can’t go or don’t have the funds,” Johnson said. “They can get a slightly worn dress or men’s clothing.”

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Dee Wheless Carduner said Johnson’s work has had a ripple effect across San Antonio. Carduner volunteers with the National Council of Jewish Women, a children’s and women’s rights group. Five years ago, a social worker gave her the name Johnson when the council coordinated a glamorous team for a holiday party for teenagers and young adults.

“Although I was able to find a donor for my needs, I was very grateful for her unconditional support,” Carduner wrote in an email.

Recently, she needed some teenage shoes, and Johnson invited Carduner to look over her inventory. When she arrived, the Project Prom founder was helping the boys from Roy Maas Youth Alternatives pick out clothes for an end-of-year party.

There are times when funding is an issue and the couple must cover the expenses with their own money. But stopping the project is not an option for Johnson.

“It sometimes keeps me awake at night,” she said. “Because I want it to continue for many more years. This is to help families and children ensure they can attend their special events.

For more information, call or text 210-504-7766 or email info@ppdsa or projectpromdresssa@gmail.com.

vtdavis@express-news.net

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