CANTON TOWNSHIP, Mich. — Like most prom dresses, Michelle Salamon's got stashed in a closet after the big night. The white floor-length gown she sewed during home economics class in 1990 languished for years until she learned about an event that gives mothers a charitable excuse to squeeze back into their youth.
"It's a little snug," the 38-year-old teacher's assistant joked before entering a party affectionately known as the "Mom Prom" in suburban Detroit. "I just zipped it up, and it fits!"
Now in its sixth year, the ladies-only gathering encourages women to dive into their closets and pull out prom, bridesmaid and even wedding dresses — that are decades old in some cases — for a night of dancing, drinking and reminiscing while raising money for worthy causes. The event has brought in thousands of dollars for cancer research and charitable groups, and is inspiring similar events in other states.
"That's why we have prom," organizer Betsy Crapps told the cheering group of more than 100 women as they jammed to 1980s music and beyond Friday, proudly donning a metallic rainbow of chiffon, satin and sequins. "We're changing the world, ladies, one prom at a time."
The event owes its origin to the puffy pink number that Crapps wore to her senior prom. The 41-year-old was so amused by the gown when her mother gave it back to her several years ago that she wore it to her friends' Academy Awards watch party. It was a hit, and about a dozen friends agreed to don their tacky, dated dresses for a night of dinner and dancing designed to raise money for charity.
After a local newspaper columnist caught wind of the get-together, Crapps was inundated with calls from women interested in attending the next outing. So in 2007, she held the Mom Prom in the gym at her church in Canton Township, and after women paid $10 each to attend, she dropped off an $820 check at a local homeless shelter.
Since then, she has consulted for an event in Seattle last year and one scheduled for April in Middletown, N.Y. She's also heard from mothers interested in hosting similar parties in Indiana, Illinois and Pennsylvania.
Crapps' sister, Katie Long, attended the bash to get ideas about holding a Mom Prom in New Hampshire. The 32-year-old, who earlier joked "it's cool to be ugly," swaggered in a shimmery, rose-colored 1980s-era dress with gold metallic leaves that she bought on eBay.
Crapps, the assistant director of faith formation at St. Thomas a'Becket Catholic Church, said her dream is to see Mom Proms held across the country on the same day.
Her event this year raised more than $3,000 for the Society of St. Vincent de Paul and the HHT Foundation, which works toward finding a cure for a genetic disorder that causes blood vessel abnormalities. Past recipients include the Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute and First Step, a group working to combat domestic and sexual violence.
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Jody Nissan, who has several family members with HHT, took to the microphone during Friday's event to offer a tearful "thank you." She was rewarded with an equally emotional response.
It's that togetherness that makes the event so special, said five-time Mom Prom goer Katy Cleveland, a 35-year-old mother of two from Canton. "Moms are always willing to give," she said.
Some attendees' selected attire came with deeper meaning, including Angela Leto's floral yellow, orange and green dress. Her grandmother wore it to a family wedding in 1964 and predicted before she died that Leto would one day wear it.
"And here I am," the 41-year-old Verizon Wireless engineer said, smiling as she held a picture of her grandmother wearing the dress.
Ellie Wallace, who was crowned Mom Prom queen, donned the aqua-colored dress that her late mother wore to Wallace's wedding in 1991. "I really miss her," said the 46-year-old Canton resident who works in advertising.
Women boasted about the camaraderie and unique atmosphere of the event, but Long suggested an added perk: "You're not worried about your husband not wanting to dance."
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