It has been almost 10 years since the car accident that killed 16-year-old Rebecca Kirtman, but her family and friends still continue her legacy by making high school girls around the nation feel special.
Becca’s Closet, a nonprofit organization designed to find formal and party dresses for high school girls who can’t afford them, was founded in 2003 by Rebecca’s mother, Pam Kirtman. The dream, however, started a few years earlier with a magazine article.
“Becca had seen an article in a magazine about a group of girls at a [preparatory] school who collected dresses to send to girls who needed them in another state,” Kirtman said. “She liked that idea and wanted to do something like that at [her high school], so she started collecting dresses on a small scale.”
Now, the nonprofit collects tens of thousands of dresses from donations around South Florida — from companies, as well as private citizens — and that’s not counting the donations across the country to the organization’s national chapters in 34 other states.
“I think the national impact is wonderful, and it’s not just all in South Florida,” said Courtney Wallace, a longtime volunteer at the nonprofit and former classmate of Rebecca. “Across the United States, we are able to help these girls and make them feel good. It expands what Becca tried to do. We get so many dresses now, thousands and thousands, that we are able to donate to other chapters. It’s a sharing network, and that’s awesome.”
The dresses are for high school’s big occasions, like military balls, proms or homecoming dances and can be very pricey in retail stores. That’s not including the price of admission, plus makeup, hair and nails for the girls.
“A family member can help with hair and makeup, plus nails most girls can do on their own,” Kirtman said. “Then schools can sometimes help with admission into whatever event it is. But the dress, you can’t avoid it. They are just expensive. Imagine being left out for something like a dress. So, we are able to help them to just be with all their friends.”
The process for getting a dress is a fairly simple one. The only hoops a girl is required to jump though is to prove she is a high school student, that the event is a high school dance, and make an appointment with one of the organization’s distribution centers to find a dress.
“We are here to help those with financial need,” Kirtman said. “We go on the honor system, and 99 percent are honest. Those that do try to sneak by often realize their error and do right thing.”
A volunteer will then treat the girl to her own personal shopping experience to find the perfect dress, and possibly shoes and a handbag to match. It depends on what is available from the donations.
Thirteen-year-old Hannah Sztorc started volunteering almost two years ago at Becca’s Closet as her Bat Mitzvah project. She decided to keep with her job as a personal shopper because of the happiness she saw as she helped girls find the perfect dress.
“About a year ago, this one girl who came in told me she wanted something straight down and plain,” Sztorc said. “She said not poofy or sparkly at all. It was funny because the dress she ended up getting was the most poofy and sparkly we had, and she loved it.”
Rachel Reiss, a senior at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, is a chapter leader in Coral Springs. She makes sure that anyone who wants to donate dresses at her school, or in the surrounding community, has a place to do it conveniently.
Every prom season, Reiss will take the dresses she gets to the distribution center, and volunteer for the day.
“The best part is seeing the reactions of the girls when they try the dresses on,” Reiss said. “They are just so happy. Some don’t want to take it off. I just walk away at the end of the day happy that I was able to help them.”
To donate, to find a dress or to start a chapter, visit beccascloset.org.