Volunteers, new location make Cinderella Project more accessible to local teen girls

Local teens comb through the racks of gently used donated dresses to find the perfect one one for prom at the 2014 Cinderella Project. (photo by Rachel Ham)

Local teens comb through racks of gently used donated dresses to find the perfect one for prom at the 2014 Cinderella Project. (photo by Rachel Ham)

Hundreds of girls stopped by the Cinderella Project boutique Saturday and saw the potential in gently used formal wear and accessories that previously had taken up space in someone’s closet or wardrobe. They waited in line, combed through the racks and were rewarded with a perfect dress for prom night.

The Cinderella Project, organized by the S.C. Bar Young Lawyers Division, began in 2001. People across the state donate items for the boutique in their city, and girls are given the chance to pick out a dress and accessories for free just before prom each year. The Columbia boutique is co-sponsored by the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Upsilon Omega Omega Chapter, and the Junior League of Columbia also sends volunteers to help with the big day.

Brookland Baptist Church served as the new location for the Columbia Cinderella Project this year. Lisa Hostetler, chairwoman of the Columbia boutique, said the partnership was off to a great start.

“(Brookland Baptist) has been awesome,” she said. “They have great parking and bigger facilities. We’d definitely like to come back.”

“I’ve heard lots of compliments from parents on the parking and extra space,” agreed Young Lawyers Division member Sheila Bias, who also serves as Columbia Cinderella Project vice chair and is a Junior League of Columbia member.

Volunteers were able to use the church’s health-and-wellness center to set up the racks of dresses and provide a separate area for girls to find matching shoes, jewelry and a bag. Teams of volunteers moved the donations and set up the temporary dressing rooms Friday, welcomed girls and their mothers Saturday morning and then carried away the remaining items later that day. Hostetler said about 90 volunteers pitched in to help.

About 400 people had checked in at the Columbia boutique by 10:30 Saturday morning, which was a larger turnout than last year. Bias said there was a short line at 7 a.m. when volunteers began arriving.

Girls held up dresses to get a better look in spots all around the health-and-wellness center before heading to the dressing room. Swansea High School senior Shianne Fuller and her mom were in the midst of a hunt for a dress in the hi-low, uneven hem style.

“This is my first time coming, and I wanted to see what they had,” Fuller said.

Swansea High’s prom isn’t until April, but Fuller already is planning to have a memorable time no matter who she goes with that night.

“It’s my last year of high school, and I want to have fun,” she said.

Fuller and the other girls had more than 3,000 dresses to choose from, and the volunteers saw many big smiles on the faces of those who left carrying just what they had had in mind — or something totally different.

White Knoll High School senior Rachel Shealey said she came purposefully looking for a red dress. Instead, a teal beaded dress was draped on her arm when she left.

“It’s awesome. It reminds me of a peacock,” she said. “It’s my last (prom) so I wanted to stand out.”

Shealey said she heard several classmates discussing the Cinderella Project and decided to come find a bargain for herself.

“Everyone had been talking about it,” she recalled. “And dresses are expensive.”

Hostetler said many families do find it difficult to afford the whole prom package. The Cinderella Project gives them a way to ease that burden while also recycling perfectly good dresses.

“The girls and their mothers are extremely supportive,” Hostetler said. “This grows every year.”

The Cinderella Project is a significant undertaking each spring, but organizers know it’s an important tradition to maintain.

“It’s often overlooked, but prom is a big night to a lot of girls,” Hostetler said.

Donations also were collected for Cinderella Project boutiques in Aiken, Anderson, Greenville, Orangeburg and Greenwood.