BY RUTH RICE
Fairy godmothers have been generous in keeping the stores of prom finery plentiful.
The seventh annual Cinderella Project will bring all the makings for a fairy-tale evening to area high school girls from noon to 3 p.m. Saturday and March 23 at YWCA of Greater Johnstown, 526 Somerset St. in the Kernville section of Johnstown.
The number of donated prom dresses continues to grow, said Megan Livingston, coordinator for the Cinderella Project and an instructional designer for Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield.
“We continue to see more dresses year-round,” Livingston said. “There are even more this year. With a rough count, I have about 825 dresses.”
Girls are not only coming back to the project for more than one year, they are understanding the importance of bringing back the dress they wore so others may use it.
“We see new ones coming in, which makes our collection current,” Livingston said. “We have become the place to donate.”
She stressed there are no income requirements to choose a prom outfit at no cost.
“This is help for anyone,” Livingston said.
“It could be a single mom or dad or two working parents with two daughters going to the prom. Either way, it’s an added expense. With the economy, we thought this could benefit across the board.
“If you feel the need, there are no questions asked.”
And the perfect dress is only one piece of a magical night.
Shoes, purses, wraps and jewelry also have to be considered, and all are available, along with the dresses.
“The Richland Rotary collected and donated some jewelry for us,” Livingston said. “While the dresses are being brought back, jewelry and shoes don’t get returned. Shoes can be damaged, and you can wear the jewelry more than once. We try to get more with our monetary donations.”
Michele Morealli of Lower Yoder Township has volunteered with the Cinderella Project from the start.
She worked with Livingston at Concurrent Technologies Corp. and knew her co-worker had an idea for free prom dresses in the Johnstown area from similar projects in larger areas.
“When Megan has an idea, it will happen,” Morealli said. “She put in a request at work for anyone who was interested. I couldn’t pass it up.”
Morealli’s duties have included cleaning, setting up the dressing rooms and mirrors and helping the girls check in.
“I’ve worked in all areas, wherever I’m needed,” Morealli said.
Morealli said she was touched by a girl who got a dress through the Cinderella Project and brought a picture of herself all decked out.
“She comes back every year and thanks us for the wonderful thing we’re doing,” Morealli said.
Each year, the project is attracting more girls from different areas, including Somerset, Carrolltown and Northern Cambria.
“It’s spreading out,” Morealli said. “They leave with the whole getup.”
Livingston said two seamstresses will be available to make alterations on the dresses.
When doors open at noon, girls and their mothers are waiting and ready.
Some have been there as long as two hours before the doors open.
Everyone is allowed into the YWCA’s bottom floor, where they register and choose dresses to try on.
Livingston calls this aspect of the day controlled chaos.
“We only have so much space, so we give them numbers to try the dresses on,” Livingston said. “A husband of one of our volunteers built sections for dressing rooms using PVC pipe and curtains to give us more space.”
Three years ago, Jordan Sanders of Richland Township brought her sister, Laekyn, to the Cinderella Project.
“My sister was a junior at Forest Hills, and she wanted to find a dress that would make her beautiful, suit her personality and be affordable,” Sanders said.
“I heard about the Cinderella Project through the paper and offered to take her and her friend.”
When they arrived at the YWCA, the choices seemed overwhelming, but a crew of volunteers asked them about size, color and style and helped Sanders’ sister and her friend choose something that made them feel special.
“She fell head over heels in love with this dress that didn’t need any alterations,” Sanders said. “It was perfect for her. She kept gushing over it, and I said, ‘It’s just a dress.’
“She’s a great kid, and I was happy to do it for her. It was the light at the end of the tunnel.”
While the focus is often on the girls who receive the prom dresses, there also is joy in donating them.
Meghan Wilton, now serving as a second lieutenant in the Air Force in Oceanside, Calif., was disappointed when local consignment shops would not accept her donated prom gowns because they were not the popular style or were too outdated.
“I was very upset by this because the gowns I owned were in pristine condition and were gorgeous,” Wilton said by email. “I thought it would be good for the shops to have the gowns in their stores for girls to have access to them.”
She graduated from Penn Cambria High School in 2008 and grew up in Cresson.
After being turned away, Wilton remembered seeing the Cinderella Project advertised and had her parents drop off her gowns at the donation site because she had to return to California.
Wilton was thrilled to find out her gowns had been accepted and emailed Donna Keller, who serves on the YWCA board of directors, to thank her for the opportunity.
“I told her how much it meant to me for people to see my gowns as a potential to make high school girls happy rather than what would sell better and what would not, which is all I ever intended by giving away my gowns,” Wilton said. “I felt so much better about my gowns going to the project because I wanted girls who may not be able to afford gowns to have the opportunity to go to their high school formals in gorgeous gowns and make memories. That’s what being in high school is about, the memories.”
Wilton’s email was a mission-fulfilling moment for the YWCA board.
“Those gowns made me feel special and more confident about myself when I wore them,” Wilton said. “In this day and age, I feel high school girls need that more than ever now.
“All girls deserve that.”
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