William K. Alcorn
More than 100 happy, excited young women said “yes to a free prom dress” Saturday at the Kyrsten’s Kloset fundraiser, which benefits the Kyrsten Elizabeth Studer Foundation, created to keep Kyrsten’s memory alive and raise awareness of the danger of drinking and driving.
Another couple hundred have the opportunity from noon to 4 p.m. today to shop for their perfect gown from among some 1,500 mostly-new dresses available at 110 Orchard Ave. Their only cost is to sign a pledge not to drink and drive.
Kyrsten was 16 when she was killed by a hit-and-run drunken driver April 4, 2003. She would have turned 30 this April 16, said Sarah Studer, Kyrsten’s sister.
“I just had that moment,” said Sarah, when asked if she ever wonders what Kyrsten would have become had she lived.
“I imagine she would have been an unbelievable human being,” she said.
“We are raising awareness of the dangers of drinking and driving. That’s why we encourage people to take part, regardless of their monetary status,” she said.
The Studer Foundation has donated prom dresses to special-needs children for the Tim Tebow Foundation’s Night to Shine prom event; and also makes anonymous donations to help families pay for funerals and hospital bills.
The Kyrsten’s Kloset event, especially at this time of year, is bittersweet for Kyrsten’s family because it brings back all the memories.
“It’s very difficult,” said Kyrsten’s dad, Bryan Studer.
But, he said: “When you see the girls and their moms leaving with a dress with tears in their eyes, sometimes I don’t know who is happier.”
“I believe they are taking a little bit of Kyrsten with them. Kyrsten is always in our minds. She was a caring, giving person. It was always about the other person,” her dad said.
“We’ve heard so many people say that if this event didn’t happen, their daughter might not be able to go to the dance,” he said. “We’ll keep doing it as long as we keep getting donations and as long as we can. I wish donors could be here to see the joy they bring.”
Kyrsten’s Kloset gave away about 250 dresses in 2017 and the Studers anticipate giving away at least that many this year. That compares with giving away 40 to 50 dresses each of the first couple of years.
“Every year it has grown, and shows no signs of cutting back,” said Studer.
Isabella Nagy, 18, of Warren, a first-time visitor to Kyrsten’s Kloset found out about the event Saturday morning on social media. A senior at John F. Kennedy High School in Warren, Isabella said she plans to study pre-med.
Her mother, Niki Frenchko, said the event is a tremendous blessing to her family and a “beautiful tribute” to Kyrsten.
Some moms and daughters, like Amanda Johnson, 17, and her mother, Sharleen Johnson, a former Warren resident, came a long distance to visit Kyrsten’s Kloset.
Amanda, a student at Maplewood Junior-Senior High School in Guys Mills, Pa., said she tried on five or six dresses before finding that special one.
Shopping with the Johnsons were Kelsie Tenney, 19, a senior at Howland High School, and her mother, Elizabeth Tenney of Howland.
Kelsie, who said she tried on eight to 10 dresses, said Kyrsten’s Kloset is a “very good program,” and she signed the sobriety pledge.
In addition to the dresses, there’s an auction, bake sale and raffle baskets at the event. Any money raised is donated to families of sick children for medical bills and any other expenses.
Studer said there are many people to thank for making Kyrsten’s Kloset a success.
LaFrance Cleaners, the event sponsor, is the dropping-off point at its locations in Youngstown, Poland and Boardman, he said. He also thanked the donors and the volunteers who helped the shoppers.