A hundred ball gowns donated to Taranaki School

A real life fairy godmother has dropped in at Opunake High School to sprinkle some magic on their school ball.

The Taranaki school has been gifted a hundred brand new and beautiful ball dresses from a woman who wanted to say thank you for everything the school has done for her son.

Hellen Burley arrived at the school earlier this week armed with bags filled with sparkling and flowing ball gowns.

“The looks on the girls’ faces were just wonderful. They were so excited,” she says.

“And when they started dressing up in them it just brought back so many happy memories for me.”

Hellen Burley’s hundred ball gowns have come all the way from New York.
Photo credit: Andy Bedford

Hellen used to own a ball dress shop in Auckland for many years and these ball dresses were part of the stock she kept when she closed down.

Each year she would travel to New York to pick out the dresses, which are worth up to $600 each.

Hellen says the reason the family left Auckland was because her youngest son Daniel was not enjoying the school he was at and he was slipping through the cracks.

“He was at a decile 10 school with 3500 boys and the teachers didn’t know him name,” she says.

“Trying to get him to school everyday was horrible.

“So we moved from Auckland to Taranaki and the change in him was almost instant. He went from an 18 per cent attendance rate in Auckland to a 90 per cent attendance rate at Opunake High.

“And that’s because of the teachers.”

The co-educational school has about 350 students and Hellen says she couldn’t speak highly enough of the teachers and the kids at Opunake High.

“The teachers have been amazing. They have literally changed his life and he is a completely different boy.

“I don’t think they realise how important they are. They don’t know how truly wonderful they are.

“So I just wanted to do something to thank the school, to give back for all that they have given my son. I wanted to do something that would make a difference.”

Hellen says since arriving at Opunake High three years ago her son had grown to really enjoy mechanical engineering, thanks to a special and very supportive teacher, Philip Hooper.

The perfect dress can make you feel like a million dollars
Photo credit: Andy Bedford

“And now Dan’s been accepted into three universities to study mechanical engineering. Three years ago you wouldn’t have thought that could happen.”

School principal Peter O’Leary says the students and staff were blown away by Hellen’s gesture.

He says her generous gift is a testament to every teacher at the school who goes above and beyond for their students, who gives up their spare time for their students, and who often puts their hands in their own pocket for their students.

“This is their normal,” he says.

“This is how our teachers are everyday.”

Peter says the theme for this year’s ball, which is in August, is Hollywood and the ball gowns are a perfect fit.

The dresses will allow every student to be as glamourous as they want to, without having to worry about buying an expensive dress, he says.

“Hellen is also organising hair and makeup for the girls and involving our community in that.

“I’ve been here for a year now and that’s one thing that has stood out to me – how supportive our community are.”

Words by Taryn Utiger