Fairytale princesses as role models for young girls are a thing of the past…or at least they should be. This is exactly the mindset behind the inspirational Athena’s Warehouse, founded in 2009 by Bee Nguyen (and recent recipient of its 501c3 status).
Athena’s Warehouse provides prom dresses to Atlanta high school girls in need with the mission to not only give them a dress they wouldn’t be able to afford, but to show them how females can empower each other through personal support and public service.
Nguyen, a 29-year-old Edgewood resident, had been working in the real estate world for five years. But she said she fulfilled her need to be more involved in the city's communities by starting Athena’s Warehouse.
“Our organization is similar to ones like Cinderella’s Closet and the Glass Slipper Project, but with an urban twist,” Nguyen said. “We got rid of the fairytale and named the nonprofit after a warrior rather than a princess.
"We want girls to realize that a prince is not going to come along and save you, but you have the power to achieve your dreams.”
Athena’s Warehouse currently serves about 50 girls from Maynard Jackson, Grady and Cross Keys high schools.
The organization relies on the schools to let them know which girls are in the most financial need.
The teen girls are each matched with a female volunteer mentor throughout the process. They will get a shopping experience at their high school where they will pick out their dresses and later, the garments will be dry-cleaned and, if necessary, altered for them.
They also must complete three hours of community service at Project Open Hand to receive their dresses.
“The girls really develop positive relationships with their female mentors and see how women can empower and help each other,” Nguyen said.
As for the shopping experience, it can often be an emotional one.
“We’ve had some instances where a girl chose the donated dress of her mentor without even knowing,” Nguyen said. “And, we had one girl say her dress was ‘love at first sight.’ Lots of girls say they want to come back and mentor in the program after they finish school.”
It’s not just about the prom, though. Athena’s Warehouse takes the girls to an Atlanta Dream game and they get the opportunity to meet the players afterward, further exposing them to strong female role models.
The nonprofit also runs a series of workshops for teen girls at Cross Keys High School and they hope to expand to other schools.
The workshops cover life skills and topics like self-defense, career moves, sex education, healthy eating and cooking, financial literacy and self-esteem.
As a brand-new organization, Athena’s relies on individual donors and fundraisers to sustain its efforts.
An “adult prom” themed fundraising event will take place this May at Sutra Lounge. You can also donate via the organization's website.
Female volunteers are always wanted, and if you have a formal or cocktail dress (preferably less than three years old and in good condition), you can drop it off at Sanctuary Real Estate in Inman Park during operating hours and know that you could be helping make a teen girl’s prom that much more memorable.
When females empower and help each other, fairy tales really can come true.