March 6, 2010 9:48:00 PM
Jan Swoope - [email protected]
"I love it! I love it!" The exclamation rang out frequently as Megan Brown was everywhere at once, complimenting girls as they pirouetted in front of full-length mirrors in the former Lia Fashions building in Columbus Feb. 27. The Columbus Air Force Base spouse and a squadron of volunteers, most of them affiliated with CAFB, may not have looked much like Walt Disney''s plump, gray-haired fairy godmother in "Cinderella," but they had her generosity down pat.
The Cinderella Project''s "Gown a Gal" campaign culminated in a day-long stream of more than 200 high school prom-bound girls on a dream shopping excursion -- everything was free of charge.
After months of collecting very gently-used and new prom dresses to offer students who may benefit from a helping hand, the philanthropic Cinderella Project volunteers had about 500 gowns and semi-formal frocks to select from.
When doors opened at 7 a.m., the parking lot was filled and a group of eager young ladies, many accompanied by sisters or moms, was waiting.
"The scene at 7 was awesome!," said Brown. "We had girls lined up at the door."
Neat racks of jewel-tone and pastel dresses greeted the students as they entered. Some shimmered with sequins; others glittered with beading. A selection of shoes, jewelry and makeup was also displayed. Volunteer seamstress Patricia Wilson was on hand to help with nips and tucks. With usually 10 appointments scheduled every half-hour, the floor and dressing rooms were hives of activity.
When 19-year-old Dallas Cheyenne Slatton walked in for her appointment, she had no idea what lay in store. As she modeled a fairy tale-pink dress for her mother and other family members, Brown approached to tell the Columbus High School senior she had been selected as the recipient of a Cinderella package including, not a pumpkin coach and six horses, but a stretch limousine ride donated by Bulldog Limo Co. of Starkville, a dinner for two at J. Broussard''s, a salon package from Salon 7, a new dress from the Fashion Barn and trimmings to go with it from The Accessory Corner.
With tears welling in her eyes and her hands pressed to her face, Dallas was momentarily speechless.
"I''ve never had anything like this happen to me," she said, her voice wavering.
For this young woman, senior prom is a significant milestone. Suffering from complications at birth, Dallas was rushed to Le Bonheur Children''s Medical Center in Memphis, Tenn., where she had her first lung surgery when she was just five hours old. At five days, she had open heart surgery. She was 3 months old before she could breathe on her own, and later became the poster child for the American Heart Association. In January 2009, doctors finally gave her the all-clear.
"They said, ''Go have fun; see you in two more years,''" shared Dallas, who currently is a primary caregiver for her grandmother, who lives next door and suffers from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
"I told my grandfather I would take care of her," she stated.
"How do you begin to say thank you?" Rhonda Slatton, Dallas'' mother, said after hearing of the gift package. "They made her dream come true, and so they made my dream come true. Dallas does for everybody and never asks for anything."
Worth it all
"This has been really remarkable," said volunteer Leslie Watkins. Her husband, Col. Roger Watkins, is commander of the 14th Flying Training Wing at CAFB. "The girls have been very gracious."
Senior Airman Melissa Free co-chaired the Cinderella Project.
"It''s really been a lot calmer than I expected," the Amarillo, Texas, native remarked, checking in newcomers for their appointments. "It''s been fun; it''s really great to see the girls so excited."
Cinderella Project volunteers are grateful to those who donated dresses, shoes, accessories and services and made this inaugural effort possible. Other groups were on hand to interact with the girls. They included Shelly Harper of Harper Photography, who took photos of each recipient in her new gown, free of charge; representatives of the CAFB Beauty Salon; Myra Berry, with Mary Kay cosmetics; and Pinnacle Housing of CAFB.
For Megan, who will move to Ohio later this month as her husband, Staff Sgt. Keith Brown, is reassigned, the months of coordinating, collecting and storing have been worth it.
"Running this project has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my adult life," she said. "The appreciation of the parents and students made all of the chaos well worth the effort. Seeing so many beautiful girls dressed as princesses really was a ''Cinderella'' experience."
Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.