Daily Progress, Jacksonville, TX

February 12, 2013

The Princess Project

Jo Anne Embleton
Jacksonville Daily Progress

JACKSONVILLE — It's an integral part of the high school experience, and thanks to individuals like Jacksonville's April Wright and projects like “Cinderella's Closet,” local students who may not otherwise be able to attend their spring prom, can enjoy the event.

Wright missed her own senior prom because of health issues – a brain tumor diagnosed her freshman year, then the eventual discovery of additional tumors in her thyroid and parathyroid glands, caused by a rare genetic disorder called Multiple Endocrine Neoplasia.

Project Prom, which she thought up earlier in the year, was her way of “giving back” to young women who, for whatever reason, couldn't go to their own proms. “I figured it'd be a good way to start,” said the Jacksonville High School 2001 graduate.

“I'm so amazed by how many dresses I've collected for Project Prom,” she wrote in a Feb. 2 entry on her Facebook page. “I feel like I've been on a roller coaster with this thing that I believe God laid on my heart.”

Donors have responded to requests for services and dresses, the fast response surprising her.

“I didn't expect that much support from the community, so fast,” she said, “but it's their way of showing support for these young girls.”

Mickey Gear, executive director of The Clothes Closet & More, which has hosted Cinderella's Closet for the past four years, said the response is typical of the support residents give youth in the community.

“We get so much excitement from the program – not just from the families but from the businesses in the area, and it's been heartwarming, (especially) knowing what it does for these girls' self-esteem,” Gear said. “I just can't imagine prom night coming up and a girl not being able to go because she can't afford an outfit, but this way, we're able to help them attend their prom.”

The project bears the name of a similar nation-wide endeavor to clothe young women in need for their prom, but is not related to the effort.

“It's our idea, and the name seemed to fit because we're The Clothes Closet – Cinderella was the one with the fairy godmother and the pumpkin coach,” and her team wanted to do something similar for girls from the area, Gear said.

Approximately 100 dresses have been donated to this year's Cinderella's Closet project, and for the first time, tuxedos also have been donated for 10 young men.

The Clothes Closet collects the dresses year-round, “really beautiful gowns in all sizes, all colors and styles” – along with shoes, jewelry and other accessories – that are given to girls from area high schools, she said.

“We send out notice to the schools that we're doing it, and they let the girls know,” she added. “Everything is free, and we're hoping that local businesses like beauty shops and salons will provide vouchers for services.”

In past years, local business Pam's Dry Cleaners has worked with Cinderella's Closet to clean gowns, while Mike and Tinnie Anderson, a local couple who own Belyse Photography, have offered to document the big day for five special young ladies who will be chosen from among the Project Prom participants.

“We're hoping to get photos of the girls getting ready for the event, though we're still working on ideas,” Tinnie said.

“It seems that over the years, prom has kind of gotten to be not such a big deal anymore, so we want to bring the excitement back, and we want the girls to know it's their big day – they've worked so hard throughout the year that we want to reward them for their hard work,” she said.

Other Project Prom participants include a mobile spa owner who will donate services for facials, manicures and pedicures the day of the event, as well as two women who will dress the hair of the five lucky participants whose names are drawn for “the whole package,” Wright said.

“We want to help as  many as possible, but five will get whole package,” she said, adding, “right now, we're just looking for someone to donate limo service to take all of them to Jacksonville High School prom.”

While both women say donated dresses in smaller sizes have been pouring in, there's still a need for larger dresses (14 and up), as well as shoes (especially in sizes larger than 8, Gear said), as well as accessories like pantyhose, purses and such.

“It's very neat having (The Clothes Closet's) support,” Wright said, as Gear added, “it's an uplifting thing to be part of – we just enjoy it so much.”

Project Prom is open to any female senior attending Jacksonville High School; candidates are asked to provide a letter of recommendation from a teacher or community member on their behalf, which are due by March 23. Letters – which also must include dress and shoe sizes, as well as a photo and telephone number – may be sent to Project Prom c/o April Wright, 406 Angelina St., Jacksonville, TX 75766.

To donate items to Project Prom, contact Wright at 903-393-4408.

Gowns and tuxes from Cinderella's Closet will be available beginning March 23, the same day Jacksonville's Clothes Closet, 314 S. Main, will be hosting a noon to 2 p.m. tea in honor of Wright.

As part of this year's Cinderella's Closet project, coordinators will be raising funds for at least one scholarship to be awarded to a participant who is graduating this year.

Each year, excitement surrounds the event, Gear said, and “the tears are abundant here, especially among the parents (who are) able to see their daughters in prom dresses like that.

“The girls cry because they didn't think they could go … they cry, and we cry, but it's just so much fun,” she said. “We've have thank you notes and cards, or people coming in, saying 'You made (the day) for us.'”

Contact Gear at 903-586-0204 for more information about Cinderella's Closet.