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DanvilleSanRamon.com

Column - February 6, 2009

Diablo Views: Put fancy dresses to good use

by Dolores Fox Ciardelli

Ladies: Do you have any fancy dresses hanging around your closet? Give them a new chance at life - but, more importantly, donate them to a teenage girl so she can feel beautiful for a night.

The Princess Project provides free prom dresses to Bay Area girls who otherwise could not afford them. Collections are taking place Feb. 8-14 throughout the East Bay.

"Prom is an exciting rite of passage for high school girls, but given today's tough economy and rising costs, it's harder for girls to participate," said Patricia Martinovic, this year's event co-chairwoman. "We're hoping to take away some of that anxiety and help girls feel special for a night."

Nicole Carberry is a volunteer with the Princess Project who lives in Lafayette. Last year she worked at the space rented out at Bayfair Mall in San Leandro to serve as a dress shop for the teens, and she said the other merchants were very supportive. Nicole told me that she helped three girls choose their gowns.

"One had her baby there; she was still going to high school," said Nicole, who has two preschoolers of her own. "I held her baby while she was trying on the dress so she got to be a normal teenager."

She said each of the girls she helped knew when they'd found the right dress - "You know that moment when you feel beautiful?"

That was her goal, to help each one find the dress that made her feel like a princess. The girls would ask her opinion, Nicole said, but she kept asking them, "How do you feel in that dress?" They knew when they found the right one, and with 100 girls all trying on dresses together it made for a lively event.

"They were so excited and so appreciative," Nicole recalled.

During last year's collection period, Nicole sent out word to all her friends and within a few days 40 dresses had been dropped at her doorstep. She said the volunteers go to great lengths to get dresses in every size and color and style and to promote every body type. They had dresses in sizes 0 to 26. After they find the right dress, the girls each get to pick out an accessory.

The Princess Project began in 2002 when a high school girl in a youth leadership program happened to mention to staff members that lots of girls can't go to their proms because they don't have the money to buy a dress or accessories. The women realized that they and many of their friends had dresses from parties, their daughters' proms and weddings that they would be glad to donate. The Princess Project, run entirely by volunteers, was born. To learn more, visit www.princessproject.org.

Since then the project has paired up more than 9,000 girls with free dresses and accessories. This year the group hopes to help 1,000 girls at their giveaways in Oakland, Silicon Valley and San Francisco. They also hold fundraisers to help with expenses since some gowns and many accessories have to be purchased. And they have to work to get someone to donate space for the spring dress drive and giveaways.

Two Danville businesses volunteered as drop-off points this year: Elisa Wen (in the Rose Garden on Camino Ramon); and Tootsies, 175 E. Prospect. So check out your closets for those old prom or bridesmaid dresses and tell your friends about it, too. Or hold your own drive to gather up even more dresses. Each donated dress means an enchanted evening for someone. This year's giveaway in the East Bay will take place March 21.

"I volunteer because I think everyone deserves one night of magic," said Nicole, "one day to step out of whatever goes on in their lives."

-Dolores Fox Ciardelli can be e-mailed at editor@DanvilleWeekly.com.

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