Cinderella Project helps girls realize prom dreams with free dresses

Devaney Johnson will be sparkling on her prom night.

She had her eyes peeled for a pink dress as she shopped Saturday morning. But it was a royal blue sequined number that turned out to be the one for the 18-year-old Irmo High School senior.

Devaney’s family was displaced by October’s flood and, like many families in the Midlands, was looking for a more economical option for her prom dress and accessories.

She found it Saturday thanks to the Cinderella Project, which for 15 years has helped South Carolina girls realize their prom dreams regardless of their possible financial limitations.

“Prom is one of the quintessential rites of passage” for young women, said Sheila Bias, who helps organize the event on behalf of the S.C. Bar Young Lawyers Division. “Everyone remembers their prom night.”

Devaney’s mom, Shonda Pooser, remembers her junior and senior proms. She wore a handmade dress her first year and spent the evening with friends. Her senior year, she wore a hand-me-down dress and went with her boyfriend. She wants her daughter to have the same lasting memories of her own prom, she said.

“I wanted to make sure she’s able to enjoy her final senior prom,” Pooser said. “I wanted to make sure she enjoyed it – and make sure she felt special.”

Last year, the Cinderella Project gave away about 375 dresses to high school girls in the Midlands, Bias said. As the event was still going on, she said she wouldn’t be surprised to see a higher turnout of girls looking for free dresses and accessories this year given the widespread destruction of October’s flooding.

“Some people lost everything, and prom might not be their priority,” Bias said.

Between 2,000 and 3,000 dresses donated by individuals and stores were available not just for families recovering from the flood, but for anyone looking for a good – free – deal for their prom looks.

Eighteen-year-old Shana Johnson came with her mother, Isabelle, and friend Logan Smith, 17, to find dresses for Gilbert High School’s prom.

Shana’s mother had bought her a dress a year ago to wear to her senior prom, but now it’s too big for her. With her family living on a tighter budget after her father’s retirement, Shana hoped to find a new dress that fit and, at a cost of $0, wouldn’t strain her parents’ wallet.

“As long as it looks beautiful on you,” her mother said as Shana held out a dark purple dress embroidered with black sequins.

Kaylie Jones, an 18-year-old River Bluff High School senior, came with a friend to browse for a dress that might fit her school’s masquerade-themed prom.

At last year’s prom, she said, she danced all night in a simple black dress. This year, she’s looking forward to another special experience.

“It’s just a night to have fun, have a date, dance,” Kaylie said. “From childhood, most girls dream of being able to dress up and be a princess, and that’s kind of what prom is for most people.”

Reach Ellis at (803) 771-8307.