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‘Fairy Goodmothers’ provides prom dresses for girls in need

By KEVIN JOY, The Columbus Dispatch

COLUMBUS, March  2014 (AP): Weaving among rows of garment racks ablaze with sparkle and color, Anne Houser points out fashions that shine like the eyes of the recipients soon to claim them.

The thousands of items in the stylish collection, she knows, are precisely what young women need for a special night that remains a rite of passage for many teenagers.

``Girls don't want a prom dress,'' said the 38-year-old president of the Fairy Goodmothers nonprofit, which since 2006 has provided new and gently worn gowns free to girls in need. ``They want a `red-carpet' dress.''

On March 15 and April 5 and 12, Fairy Goodmothers will outfit any girl who visits the annual Cinderella's Closet event—taking place this year at the Columbus City Schools central enrollment building, next to Fort Hayes Arts and Academic High School.

Each recipient is permitted to choose a prom dress from the pop-up boutique (plus accessories and a pair of shoes) and also take home a ``goody bag'' containing makeup along with coupons for salons and retailers.

The bounty reflects the ever-pricier affair: Ohio teens attending proms in 2013 were projected to spend an average of $722, according to a survey by Visa. The national average of $1,139 marked a 5 percent increase from 2012.

As prom costs have grown, so has the Cinderella's Closet clientele. Fairy Goodmothers this year aims to clothe 1,500 girls—about 500 more than in 2013 and six times the number served nine years ago at the first giveaway.

Inspiration for the organization came in 2005 when Kay Wilhelm, then a Dublin resident, was enjoying a weekend in Chicago with friends. The women learned of a Windy City charity, the still-operating Glass Slipper Project, that provides prom clothes for disadvantaged girls.

``This light bulb went off,'' said Wilhelm, now of Circleville. ``Why couldn't we do this in Columbus?''

In the years since the inaugural Goodmothers boutique was set up in a dingy Downtown office building _ and a mishmash of so-so formalwear was stored in a garage—the pumpkin, Wilhelm said, has blossomed into ``a well-oiled machine.''

These days, more than 400 women serve year-round on Fairy Goodmothers committees responsible for outreach, donations, volunteers, the annual giveaway and fundraising. A partnership with some central Ohio bridal stores has allowed the purchase of bridesmaid dresses at merchant cost, or about $40 each.

And the latest in-kind stash is impressive: Recent donations have included the costly labels Badgley Mischka and Vera Wang. Fineries often arrive with original price tags attached.

Such quality ensures that a recipient feels ``more than adequate and more than just present'' at her prom, Houser said. ``She feels amazing.''

Publicizing the project, however, has proved challenging. Social media and fliers help, but teens remain influenced most by their peers.

So, this year, 29 gown-and-sash-clad girls will serve as Fairy Goodmothers ambassadors at area high schools—a marketing strategy similar to that employed by tuxedo-rental shops.

Organizers also expect the new location for Cinderella's Closet _ near downtown and public transportation—to boost the turnout. (For the past six years, the Shops at Worthington Place offered space free to Cinderella's Closet, but a paying tenant recently moved in.)

The procedure remains the same: Girls are allowed to take along one female companion _ and a Fairy Goodmothers personal shopper assists each client in searching for the perfect frock.

Proof of high-school enrollment (a report card, school ID or note from a teacher) is required. Though optional, registration at www.fairygoodmothers.org is recommended.

Houser, of Upper Arlington, relishes the chance to brighten a young woman's outlook with something as simple as a makeover. She has seen and outfitted teens whose families lost jobs during the recession or have been financially devastated by an illness. Some youths lack cash because they're caring for a baby of their own.

Above all, the exchange is meant to be fun.

``At first, I was a little hesitant; I thought there had to be a catch,'' said Shashe Wolfe-Steele, a 19-year-old Ohio State University freshman who recalls shopping at Cinderella's Closet a year ago, before her Westland High School prom.

``I was completely surprised at what I saw,'' said Wolfe-Steele, who selected a ``really nice'' gold sequined dress. ``It meant a lot to me.''

Information from: The Columbus Dispatch, http://www.dispatch.com


Copyright © 1989 to 2014 by [LaPrensa Publications Inc.]. All rights reserved.
Revised: 04/01/14 18:41:07 -0800.




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