Deshel Hambrick doesn't have a dress for prom herself — but she's working hard to make sure that other girls like her will.
Hambrick, a senior at the Howard School, thought about the dilemma while trying to come up with ideas to market her in-school secondhand clothing store, 4 Ever Young Resale Shop.
"I wondered how many girls are looking for a prom dress, but can't find one because they're too costly," said Hambrick, who started her business as a junior at age 17. "So I came up with the idea for the Cinderella Event, and it's promoting my business and giving girls a chance to feel like the queens and princesses they really are."
From March 11 through the end of the month, people are asked to drop off dresses at the school's main office during school hours. Hambrick said she had already received donations from David's Bridal as well as fellow students.
Girls can buy dresses at a discount and either keep them or return them in good condition for a 50 percent store credit.
The store offers a variety of clothing for men and women as well as baby clothes, shoes and accessories.
A participant in the December 2012 LAUNCH High School Entrepreneurship program, Hambrick impressed the judges with her pitch for a donations-driven secondhand clothing store in her school. Although she didn't win the main competition, she was awarded a $1,000 investment from the Chattanooga Renaissance Fund, with the possibility of future investments if she chooses to expand.
The nonprofit LAUNCH was formed in 2010 with the goal of helping people discover self-sufficiency through providing support for entrepreneurs in "underserved communities," according to the LAUNCH website.
LAUNCH also has programs at Brainerd High and Tyner Academy, and is planned to expand to a fourth school this year.
Students take entrepreneurship courses two days a week during the fall semester in which they form small groups and work on business plans, said Gina Soltau, a LAUNCH program director. At the end of the semester, the groups pitch their ideas to the judges. The winners receive a $10,000 prize package that includes money and business services.
The program helps students develop social skills, as well as research and speaking skills, Soltau said.
"Once we get them to buy into the idea, they just go crazy with the program," Soltau said. "They come up with great ideas, and they really enjoy it."
The program is a testament to the students who are involved with it, said Principal Zac Brown, in his first year of leading Howard.
"It's nice to see a student, besides the classwork, to come up with a model, come up with a business plan, to create that and now, today, to actually implement that plan in having a business," Brown said.
The classes boost students to accomplishments many people don't achieve until they're older, said Darelle Roshell, 18. He and his business partner, D'Angelo Foster, won the first LAUNCH High School Entrepreneurship competition in 2011 with their idea for Lingua Cocoa -- a company producing chocolate infused with ingredients from around the world.
But the most important thing is to think originally and do something you really want.
"Who says you couldn't start a pizza business? Even though you might have a lot of people to fight against, go ahead and take that risk," said Roshell, who plans to continue the business for about a year after he graduates, sell it and work with LAUNCH to start a new business.
"That's what I would say: Think outside the box. And go for it, don't be scared."
Contact staff writer Alex Harris at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6592.