Local designer sees outpouring of support after offering free grad dress to student in need

Published Sept. 23, 2022 6:07 p.m. ET
Updated Sept. 23, 2022 9:08 p.m. ET

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Local businesses are joining forces to help two students have the graduation experience of their dreams.

Jessica Halabi is a local designer, and she remembers how hard it was to be a Grade 12 student getting ready to graduate. With money tight at home, a prom dress was at the bottom of the list of needs. Now that she has her own custom gown company, she wants to use her skills to help someone in the same situation.

"I know it's not a unique experience to feel struggles in the home," said Halabi. "Especially around additional things like graduation."

"Grad can be a luxury for a lot of students."

Halabi posted her story to Instagram on Tuesday, along with an offer to make a free custom grad dress for a student unable to buy their own. When other local businesses heard about the offer, they started reaching out to see how they could help.

Vanity Box, a beauty salon, is donating makeup and nail services, said Halabi, and other individuals have also offered to buy shoes and accessories.

She said she didn't realize the post would reach as many people, but she wasn't really surprised to see the reaction.

"There are just so many generous people in this city," she said. "The community has stepped up and everybody wants to be involved and it's amazing."

"It's just very overwhelming and very emotional and beautiful."

There was one offer that took her by surprise though.

Manar Rahall, founder of the Alberta Barber Academy, has offered to pay for a second custom gown so that another student can have the same opportunity. She said she saw the Instagram post and thought what Halabi was doing was incredible, and she wanted to help.

"I thought it was awesome seeing a small business interact with their community the way they did," Rahall said. "It hit home close to me and it was really awesome and we wanted to be a part of that."

"I hope they get an experience they won't forget."

Halabi said a custom grad dress typically costs between $800 and $1,200, and she will work with both chosen girls to create gowns that suit their individual styles. In addition to the extra gown, The Alberta Barber Academy is paying for hair services from Shadified salon – and limo rides for both students.

"That was actually shocking," Halabi said. "That's a real extra and that's so elegant and luxurious."

Everything should go to students who will benefit the most, said Halabi, and who wouldn't be able to buy these things themselves. Nominations can be sent to her on Instagram or by email at jhfgradgown@outlook.com, and her only conditions are that nominated students should be in school and trying their best. 

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