Teacher serves as teens' fairy godmother

Hinsdale woman creates prom boutique with donated dresses for Morton students

Countless dresses hang from racks along the back wall of the room in a variety of styles and colors. Some have clean, simple lines, while others are covered in lace or beads or sequins.

Along the counter on the left, strappy sandals - some also with beads and sequins - are lined up. On the right, an assortment of necklaces, earrings, rings and purses wait to be matched with just the rest dress. Balloons and small pots of hydrangeas add a festive feel. Several attendants stands waiting to offer assistance to any shoppers who enter.

This isn't a fancy prom boutique - it's Jen Chillo's science lab at Morton West High School in Berwyn. This is the second year in a row the Hinsdale resident - and Morton West graduate ­- has transformed the space to provide a place where students can pick out prom dresses and accessories, all at no charge.

"I wanted to have a boutique where it felt like a boutique and not hand-me down stuff," she said.

Chillo first solicited dresses last year through her Facebook page and the Real Housewives of Hinsdale page and place a collection box at The Community House. She's received dozens of dresses, some still with the tags, and some from designers like Badgley Mischka.

"This is like a $500 dress," she said, pulling out a gold sequined gown. "I couldn't always afford to wear this, so I think it's so cool you're giving them access to stuff. Maybe later in life they'll be like, 'This is the dress I wore to prom.' "

Chillo, who taught at Downers Grove South High School for six years before staying home for 12 with her kids, returned to work by taking a permanent sub job at Morton West. She said at first she wasn't sure she wanted to teach at the high school she attended.

"I ended up really loving the community," she said.

The boutique gives her the opportunity to support the community while indulging in another passion.

"I've always loved clothes personally," Chillo said. "I'm a fashion girl who has always loved to wear clothes and just recognized that living in Hinsdale, there are a lot of people who have a lot of things, and a lot of times they don't wear them more than once or twice. I figured it's a great way to bridge the gap."

The boutique has been open mainly after school, but on May 11, students have been invited to stop by during their lunch hour.

"Do you want to shop for dresses or accessories?" Chillo asks one girl who walks in.

"I just want to see what you have," she responds.

A prep room between Chillo's lab and her classroom serves as a changing room, and several of her freshman students volunteer to serve as personal shoppers. Joanna Lopez, Emilia Ortiz, Isabella Salcido, Ella Gracia, Zoe Ramos, Isabella Soto, Loren Romero, Lianna Vales, Arianna Salgado and Genesis Andry make up the core group.

"We can hold things for you if you want to think about them for a little bit," Lopez tells the girl.

This year the boutique also offers a limited selection of items for male students. Some were donated by K&G Fashion Superstore in Berwyn, which also assisted with the fashion show Chillo held in March to promote her boutique to juniors and seniors.

"Sometimes they're a little skeptical, a little shy about going into an environment they don't know," she said. "This is all free. There's no catch."

More girls trickle in as the lunch hour progresses.

Salcido, who drew all the inspirational signs that hang in the dressing room, has been working with one shopper.

"My girl said yes to the dress," Salcido announces.

Chillo is quick to make sure the dress is put on a nice hanger, covered in plastic and placed in a shopping bag.

"It's been such a fun thing to see them be able to have access to quality stuff, nice stuff that fits well," she said. "Prom is a special core memory and every student should have the opportunity to make those memories. I just want them to be able to have those life experiences."

Residents who would like to donate may drop off dresses, accessories, jewelry and men's formalwear in the box at The Community House, 415 W. Eighth St.

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Pamela Lannom is editor of The Hinsdalean