79: Fairy Godmothers

79: Fairy Godmothers

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Volunteering & Giving Back

Fairy Godmothers

Just around the corner in every woman’s mind—is a lovely dress, a wonderful suit, or entire costume which will make an enchanting new creature of her.

~Wilhela Cushman

Did you ever wish you could be a fairy godmother, wave a magic wand, and turn a sad girl into a princess? I got my wish when I started volunteering for the Cinderella Project of the Capital Region.

My daughter attended two proms a year while in high school, sometimes more. After she went off to college, the dresses remained in her closet, stored in plastic bags and gathering dust. Within a couple of months of graduating college and returning home, she found herself a much-in-demand bridesmaid. She was in eight weddings over the years, all requiring that she buy a gown. The formal gowns took up precious space in her closet. She could barely fit her work clothes in there.

When she got her own apartment, she took the work clothes but left the gowns. Worse still, even after she was out of the house, new bridesmaid’s gowns found their way into the closet. I complained about the situation, but the dresses stayed put. One day she called and said she’d heard on the radio that someone was collecting prom gowns at the mall. The volunteers collecting the dresses were part of the Cinderella Project. They were recycling clean, “gently used” formals and giving them to underprivileged girls so they could attend their high school proms.

I was ecstatic. I was going to get my closet back! My jubilation, however, was premature. My daughter only wanted to get rid of six gowns. Then two years later we donated another five gowns. It was a win-win situation. The Cinderella Project got the dresses and I was slowly reclaiming my closet. I thought the program was a wonderful idea, but it never occurred to me that I might want to become one of their volunteers.

Formal gowns and accessories are collected at malls and businesses throughout our area and at various clubs and organizations. Some of the dresses are donated by local thrift shops and bridal salons. Various stores provide make-up, too. The non-profit also accepts cash donations to pay for cleaning, repairing and storing the dresses.

One day I received an e-mail from a women’s club I belong to saying the Cinderella Project was in dire need of volunteers for their upcoming “boutique day.” Though I wasn’t sure exactly what a “boutique day” was, I happened to be free that Saturday, so I volunteered.

The event was to be held at a large college gym. I reported for duty at the appointed hour and was astounded when I walked in and found the room jammed with racks of beautiful dresses of every color, design, and description. They were arranged by size, from petite 0 to women’s size 26. Changing rooms and full-length mirrors lined one wall. Next to them were tables piled high with jewelry, hair accessories, makeup, wraps… everything you’d need to attend a prom. The volunteers that day represented a variety of local clubs and service organizations, unions, colleges and businesses. Some manned tables. Others acted as “personal shoppers,” helping girls choose dresses to try on; then assisting them in getting the gowns zipped, buttoned, laced or tied; offering advice as the girls picked out accessories to complement their outfits. Most amazing of all, everything was free.

That first year I took dresses from the return racks and rehung them. The work was tiring, but rewarding.

The Cinderella Project’s slogan is “Once upon a time is now!” The girls who participate in the program must be referred by someone like a school counselor or teacher. When the girls first arrive they are often shy and uncertain, even sullen. They have no idea what to expect. Some appear hesitant, wondering what a free hand-me-down prom dress will look like. But their demeanor changes completely when they see how beautiful the dresses are and start trying them on. Every one of them smiles when she looks at her reflection in the mirror and sees a beautiful young woman. The gowns are a wish come true for these girls.

Two months after my first “boutique day,” I donated the remaining five gowns to the organization. I was thrilled! My closet was finally empty, but that didn’t end my association with the charity. The following year I volunteered again and was assigned to the repair and alterations table. Except for their first names, I didn’t know the women I worked with, but we functioned like a well-oiled machine. Some brought their sewing machines. I lugged my heavy 1950s-style wooden sewing box filled with assorted pins and needles, multicolored threads, hooks and eyes, snaps, buttons of every hue, iridescent black sequins and opalescent white ones, and the clear crystal and jet black beads I’ve accumulated over the years.

The ladies with the sewing machines handle major alterations: hemming, replacing zippers, and taking in the dresses. Two other women and I do hand sewing. We adjust spaghetti straps, reattach buttons, repair beadwork and missing sequins, tack on bows and trim, mend small tears, adjust necklines, do minor hem repairs—everything and anything to make the dresses look like new.

It’s fun to watch the girls, eyes big as saucers, zeroing in on the perfect dress. Who knew a dress could make such a difference in a young girl’s life? But it does. Like Cinderella, every girl deserves to go to the ball and have a magical night to remember!

For a few hours every year my fellow volunteers and I become fairy godmothers. We might not be able to turn a pumpkin into a coach or mice into horses, but in our own small way, we make a difference!

~Mary Vigliante Szydlowski

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