Local Student Wins National Award for Civic Engagement
Alfred State student Kayla Franchina, of Gerry, has recently been named a 2014 recipient of the Newman Civic Fellows Award from Campus Compact for her role in launching Project Prom Dress at Alfred State. Kayla is one of less than 200 students in the country being honored this year and the only Alfred State student to ever receive the award. The Newman Civic Fellows Award is given to those student leaders who have demonstrated an investment in enacting positive and lasting change in their communities through service, research, and advocacy.
Project Prom Dress, of which Kayla is the founder, focuses on collecting donated prom dresses, accessories, and cash donations for underprivileged teenage women. The group also hosts dress drives and sponsors proms at low-income schools. “For me, it isn’t just about getting dresses for these girls; it’s about helping them have the night of their lives,” Kayla says. “This project helps these women feel great about themselves, even if they can’t afford to go into a store and pick out something new to wear.”
Kayla started her prom dress drive after experiencing the sticker shock of looking for her own prom dress on a tight budget. “I was with my mom and we were in a prom dress store—the only one within hours of our town—and there wasn’t a single dress under $100. I knew it would be hard for me to get one, and I knew a lot of my friends wouldn’t be able to get a dress at all. I had to do something about it, so I started my first dress drive, and it just snowballed from there.”
This prom dress project has since attracted a lot of attention—from local media to businesses to local government, even earning significant support from Erie County Legislator Lynne Dixon. After transitioning the project to Alfred State and helping to form it into a highly regarded club, Kayla began acting as a mentor to new club members. She now helps form connections between club members and members of the community in order to facilitate donations and keep the project moving forward.
“Today, I’m teaching the young men and women who will be taking the project over and getting them ready to take the wheel. This experience has really taught me a lot about networking and the importance of reaching out to people at all levels. That’s the only way you can really make a difference,” Kayla says.
To date, Kayla and project prom dress have collected hundreds of dresses, accessories, and shoes from generous local businesses and passed them on to dozens of young women. And this year, thanks to their efforts and local fundraising, Whitesville Central School will be able to host its own prom.
“I’ve learned that people love helping other people if you give them the chance. It’s one of the best learning experiences of this project. You get to see how generous these small communities are and how easily they come together.”