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March 12, 2017

‘Fairy Godmother Project’ continues to blossom

The sixth annual Fairy Godmother Project of Miami County was held Feb. 25 in the gymnasium of the former St. Charles School in Peru. Nearly 600 new and used dresses were donated for this year’s event.

The sixth annual Fairy Godmother Project of Miami County was held Feb. 25 in the gymnasium of the former St. Charles School in Peru. Nearly 600 new and used dresses were donated for this year’s event.

By Caroline B. Mooney

PERU — Before the doors opened on Feb. 25, girls were lined up outside the former St. Charles School gymnasium for the sixth annual Fairy Godmother Project of Miami County. They were all there hoping to find their dream prom dress — for free.

The event began with an idea from Deborah Borse’s daughter Vyvian.

“After prom dress shopping, we thought about the dress hanging in a closet after the prom,” said Borse, a parishioner of St. Charles Borromeo Church. “Vyvian thought, ‘Why not donate it so someone else could use it?’ She got friends to donate dresses, and the Fairy Godmother Project began.”

Borse is grateful that the parish’s former school building has been made available each year for the event. The gymnasium serves as a showroom where girls shop for dresses. Classrooms are converted into dressing rooms.

This year, nearly 600 new and used dresses were donated. Besides prom dresses, girls also could choose two or three more casual dresses from donations. Some shoes also were available.

“It’s great to see girls find the perfect dress after coming and thinking there’s nothing for them. They leave happy and their moms are happy,” Borse said. “One of the best things is that girls are learning to become lifelong donors, as they get dresses here and donate them back. One of our dresses has been donated several times and is going to its third prom.”

The project targets students in Miami County high schools: Peru High School, Maconaquah High School, and North Miami High School. But anyone is welcome, and as news of the project has spread, girls have come from as far as Michigan and Ohio to find dresses.

Upon arrival, girls are given a number. As each number is called, a hostess helps with dress selection and escorts girls to the dressing rooms.

While waiting to be called, girls can sit with hair stylists and a makeup artist who help them come up with looks for prom night.

Volunteers create custom corsages to match dresses, and seamstresses make small sewing repairs. A local drycleaner offers discount dress cleaning.

“It’s been cool to see how we have been able to expand this,” said Bella Borse, a senior at North Miami. “We have added more dressing rooms and had more girls come every year,

“We start meeting in November and meet every two weeks until weekly meetings right before boutique day,” she said. “People sort dresses into sizes, and we bag dresses that need it. Without all of the great community support, we couldn’t have this event on this scale.”

“We love seeing girls find ‘the dress,’ said volunteer Alyson Braden, a senior at Maconquah. “It’s always exciting when they find one they are really excited about, and they get it for free – it’s a great program.”

Diane Skillen, a St. Charles parishioner, served as a volunteer seamstress.

“As a mom with a daughter I know how special this is,” she said. “It is so exciting to see these girls get dresses and corsages. They walk out of here so elated. What a wonderful thing!”

Every girl had a chance to win raffle prizes that included free prom tickets, dinners for prom nights, a gift basket, and hair, makeup and tanning appointments.

Jason Gornto, choir director at Peru High School, has helped each year.

“It’s been really exciting to see the progress from the first year,” he said. “One of the neatest aspects of this event is that the girls who volunteer here are learning organization and leadership skills. They attend meetings throughout the year, go to area business for donations and get publicity for the event.”

Nieccia Blanton, a junior at Peru High School, arrived at 8:40 a.m. to try and get an early pick of dresses.

“The selection was really cool,” she said. “I saw this dress and was hyped about it. I thought they wouldn’t have my size but they did. I think it’s cool to get a corsage, too, because I was worried about that. My mom is really proud that I get to go because she wasn’t able to go to her own prom.”

Hairdresser Lisa Juliet was happy to help.

“I love this – it’s a cool event. I wish they had it when I was in high school,” she said. “The girls come and I play with their hair, see what styles we can come up with that they can do on their own later.”

Siarah France, from Wabash, Ind., was learning how to create a “halo braid” with her hair for prom night.

“This is an awesome idea because if you don’t have enough money for a dress, you can find one here,” she said.

High school junior Jordan Freeman said she enjoys the boutique day because “it’s so laid back – it’s not like going to a dress shop. I went to one and felt like they were kind of judgmental about it. We feel like princesses here.”

She gotten two dresses from the event in previous years, and each time donated the dress back.

“Both times I saw girls leave with those dresses and they were so excited,” Freeman said.

Her sister, Jayce Freeman, a sophomore at Peru High School, was able to find a dress and matching shoes.

“I’m pretty happy because I’m very picky and I don’t particularly like dresses or shoes. So finding the right one is exciting,” she said.

The girls’ mother, Mary Freeman, loves the program.

“It’s a big deal and it’s really grown into something great through the years,” she said. “We went to a dress shop and my girls didn’t have fun – it was stuffy. This is fun.”

Helene Banina, a member of St. Charles parishioner and teacher sponsor from Maconaquah High School sees a lot of students who don’t have much.

“I’m thrilled to death they have this opportunity,” she said. “It’s a crying shame some girls pay hundreds for a prom dress. No one has to show need to come here.

“I love this project,” Banina said. “It makes me feel good, it makes the girls feel good and sometimes we see moms in tears. Some moms can’t get that dress for their girls. I hear students talk about it constantly, and they share pictures of each other’s dresses.”

Abigail Troyer volunteered as part of her senior project at North Miami High School.

“I wanted to do something to help the community,” she said. “I know how much girls love to find a dress and it’s fun helping them find the perfect dress. Everyone leaves here smiling.”

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