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