A group of fairy god-lawyers are putting a modern twist on a classic fairy tale and helping the dreams of local high school girls come true – glass slippers and all.
The Cinderella Project was launched in 2002 by the S.C. Bar’s Young Lawyers Division as a means of providing prom dresses, shoes and accessories to socially and economically disadvantaged high school students throughout the state. Students from area high schools are invited to attend a boutique in the spring to shop for a dress for their big night at no cost to them.
The event made its seventh appearance in Aiken on Saturday at the Maxwell Law Firm on Chesterfield Street, where a line of teenage girls and their parents stretched from the building’s door to the street.
“We open it to high school students who are attending their prom who would not be able to afford a dress but for this event,” said Christy Tyner, an attorney with the firm who coordinates the event. “The process is, they first pick a dress. We let them try them on, and once they’ve found the perfect dress, they have the opportunity to get makeup, jewelry, shoes and accessories.”
A room inside the law firm is devoted entirely to the storage of the hundreds of dresses. Inside, nearly a dozen racks are packed with gowns of varying sizes, lengths, colors and designs, and are sorted by size.
According to Tyner, the dresses, shoes and accessories are all donated from a variety of individuals and even stores, including LulaKate in Charleston and Charlotte’s Bridal Fashions in Aiken. The Cinderella Project asks that the gowns be only gently used, modern and clean when they’re donated.
Tyner said the only criteria to enter the boutique is that a student provide an ID to prove they go to a local high school.
“Most of the girls that are here, they’re here because they need it,” she said. “With this economy, some people have lost their jobs, families are struggling. Some children are living with a grandparent or another family member. We feel like there’s a need, and those are the young ladies that are coming to us.”
Rhonda Campbell of Aiken came with her daughter Ilia to find a dress for Ilia’s senior prom at South Aiken High School. She said it was their first experience with the project.
“It’s better than I expected,” she said. “They’re very organized, and that makes it so much easier trying to look for what you need and what’s gonna fit. The staff has been really sweet and helpful.”
Campbell said the project helps alleviate some of the financial costs associated with being a graduating senior such as college application fees, standardized test fees and purchasing graduation paraphernalia.
“You’re inundated with fees for everything,” she said. “Being able to take one fee or cost off your plate, and having such a wonderful selection, it’s incredibly helpful.”
Girls are let in 10 at a time to shop for dresses, and dressing rooms are provided for them to try the gowns on. A team of other attorneys and volunteers are on hand to assist the girls in finding what they’re looking for and even offering advice.
Melissa Franklin Hill, an attorney with the Franklin Law Firm, has been helping with the event for six years.
“We’ve almost outgrown this little room,” she said, scrunching her shoulders to squeeze between two racks of dresses. “But it’s great because some of these kids wouldn’t have the opportunity to go to prom if they didn’t come, and it’s such a rewarding thing.”
Tyner said the event is also about building confidence for the girls, many of whom have never owned a gown before.
“Some people wonder, what’s the big deal about a prom dress for these young ladies?” she said. “Prom is a special time. It’s one of those things, no matter how old you are, you can look back to your prom and remember something funny that happened that night. Most girls are gonna remember their dress.”
Teddy Kulmala covers the crime beat for the Aiken Standard. He is a graduate of Clemson University and hails from Williston.