Although 15-year-old La Vergne High School student Ashley Eccles wanted to attend the http://uk.millybridal.org/browse/wedding-dress-c-130/, her family really couldn’t afford a gown for her to wear.
“It was heartbreaking. At first, I didn’t know what to do and I told her, ‘I’ll just have to do some research and explore our options.’ I made that promise to her I would do everything I could to find her that perfect ball gown she wanted,” her mother, Teresa Eccles, said.
Eccles was able to keep that pledge through Archie’s Promise, a nonprofit that provides formal wear to young men and women in need. And March 7-8, other families can get great deals on formal wear.
“I was able to keep that promise to her. … We got a ball gown she wanted for just $15. … And (seeing her get dressed up) was absolutely amazing. She looked so beautiful and she was so excited and happy. It brought tears to my eyes. It was the most magical moment,” Eccles said.
Moments like that are why Claressa Ham started Archie’s Promise, a nonprofit named in memory of her grandfather.
“Archie’s Promise is a 501c3 organization that began with the simple mission to help individuals and families, whether that help is providing formal-wear donations for special needs proms, assisting individuals with attire for interviews and accepting business and formal wear donations then reselling at a discounted price,” explained Ham, who started Archie’s Promise in 2009.
During the formal sale on March 7-8, all gowns will be just $20 and financial assistance is available, Ham said. Although Archie’s Promise was able to give away formal wear to anyone on the free/reduced lunch program, Ham had to change the policy when Davidson County went to free lunch for all students.
So students can get financial assistance through a referral program, whether it’s a guidance counselor or social worker. Ham said to email her at email@example.com and she would determine how Archie’s Promise can help.
“If they can’t afford it, we can accommodate them,” Ham said.
For five years, Ham operated Archie’s Promise from a storage unit. She stored donations there and then held yearly giveaways at various locations. But this past year, she opened a store front called Archie and Idalene Formal Shoppe at 4321 Woodbury Pike.
“The organization is still called Archie’s Promise, but I wanted to name the shop for my late grandfather and my grandmother, who is currently living and is a great contributor. She’s a big part of my organization,” Ham said. “Without her support … we wouldn’t be able to do what we do now.”
Ham also found that she could expand services by offering gowns at a discounted price. She’s still able to help low-income students but also offers great deals for anyone.
“I wanted to have a more people-friendly place and (the storage unit) wasn’t a great place to conduct business,” Ham said.
Even young men can find deals at Archie and Idalene Formal Shoppe, she noted. Ham is now getting donations of bridal gowns.
And although she is still taking donations from local individuals, Ham has been able to garner items from a formal shop in St. Louis for plus-sizes.
Although there is now a store front, space is limited. So Ham requested reservations be made to be able to accommodate all shoppers. Early-bird shoppers can get ahead of the rush from 7-9 a.m. March 8, too, by paying a $5 door fee. All proceeds go right back into Archie’s Promise to pay for shop costs and buying any items needed.
In the near future, Ham is going to launch a program that allows community members to sponsor students for their senior year.
“We will have maybe two to four seniors eligible from local schools. People can sponsor and mentor them for their senior year, from the senior ring to cap and gown — the necessary things of a senior year that parents might not be able to afford,” Ham said.
For Ham, giving students memories is what her goal is.
“Archie’s Promise reaches out to the community and takes the financial burden off individuals and families when shopping for a business-casual, semi-formal, or formal event. The way you look impacts how you feel. An individuals’ evaluation of their clothing can affect their self-esteem, confidence, and ability to perform adequately,” Ham said. “By donating, you are giving individuals a change to build up their self-esteem and improve their quality of life.”