Updated: with video

She’s ‘Cinderella For A Day’

Girls who 'pay it forward' get free and fabulous prom gowns
Sun, 04/07/2013 - 9:30am

BELFAST — Every year around May and June, high school girls in Maine look forward to their prom. But with new dresses, shoes and accessories (not to mention hair and makeup) averaging around $400-$500, this is not something that a lot of girls can easily afford. So what’s their option — not go?

Nope, because as the fairy godmothers who runs the Cinderella Project of Maine attests, “Where there is a wand, there is a way.”

Going on eight years, the Cinderella Project of Maine has been providing free, new and gently used prom gowns to any high school girl in the state. Some have traveled hours to come to this event each year. Dresses have been donated from personal collections, vintage stores, bridal stores and even as far away as Hollywood, Calif.

This Saturday, April 6, the gowns will be given away to any girl in need with one stipulation — they must “pay it forward” and do a good deed for someone else.

This is the first year that the Cinderella Project of Maine put out an essay contest seeking one special young woman who exhibits the Project’s core value of giving back to the community, calling her their “Cinderella For A Day.” Last year, the Cinderella For A Day was chosen by raffle.

“We wanted to choose one girl who has done good things in their community,” said planning committee chairman Mandie Sawyer. “It’s important to us that girls understand that doing something for someone else is just as important as having a free and beautiful dress for a special occasion. And we wanted to pamper the winner of the contest with a special day of prom-preparation, including donated hair and makeup, tanning, corsage, plus a dinner for two.”

In addition, out of nearly 1,000 dresses and gowns to choose from, the Cinderella For A Day gets first choice of dress.

Out of 18 applicants, the Cinderella Project committee chose Mariah Ross, 16, from Mount View High School. Reading her short essay, it’s obvious why she was the natural choice.

Tell us your story. Why should we select you to be the Cinderella for a Day?

I believe I should be selected for Cinderella for a day because I’m always willing to help others, and do it with a smile on my face. I feel without our community and the supportive people in it, I wouldn’t be the strong girl, who today, follows her heart and has faith in herself. Being Cinderella for a Day, would be such an honor, and I’d appreciate it greatly.

Tell us about a challenge you have faced or a struggle you have overcome. How has this impacted you?

I’ve faced many challenges over the 16 years of my life. When I was born I was missing two toes and my right leg was shorter than my left, meaning my leg had to be amputated. Although, it has never slowed me down. In the past, I’ve played basketball, softball and field hockey. And for the past two years I’ve been part of the Varsity cheerleading squad. I recently got my license and someday hope to be an inspiration to young children facing the same struggles I have. If anything, I’m thankful for this happening, because it has taught me to be strong, and to conquer all obstacles in my way.

Community service is a key component for the Cinderella Project and Cinderella for a Day. What do you do?

One of the things I have done this past year is help coach middle school cheering. I was once introduced to a girl who had been in a car accident and her skin had to be graphed so she was worried people would make fun of her in her cheering skirt. I talked to her, and explained how supportive the people in our community are, how if anything they’d be amazed. I was happy to help her and hope to continue helping them. Another thing is my health teacher and I decided to collect can tabs to donate to a nonprofit organization. We are slowly getting it started. I was hoping to donate them to the Shriners Hospital for Children. Although, they aren’t in our community they have made such a huge impact on my life. And I hope to give back to them.

Mariah is going to her junior prom this year on May 18 at Mount View High School. At Mount View, all students can attend junior prom, so this is Mariah’s third year utilizing the Cinderella Project of Maine for her prom gown and accessories.

The day I arrived to do the story, Mariah was trying on a number of dresses. The shy beauty with a big smile had a hard time deciding between a pink satiny gown and a mermaid teal blue gown that offset her blue eyes.

“I like dresses that are really poufy,” she said. “Just like Cinderella.”

With her mother and brother looking on, Mariah beamed as she came out of the dressing room to give a little twirl. “There are a lot of people who make sure that you have help trying on dresses and accessories and make sure you have the perfect day,” she said. “I’m really thankful for this project because it has saved my family a lot of money over the years.”

Mandie Sawyer and Jessica Woods, both of Belfast, have volunteered on the Cinderella Project of Maine since its inception. In the beginning, they’d have to beg area stores to get 100 dresses donated. In 2009, Waldo Community Action Partners took on the Cinderella Project of Maine as a new initiative and it has grown to nearly 11 committee members. Now, area businesses are approaching them with donations and this year, all the businesses that donated will be invited to a “Preview Night,” a special celebratory evening where they’ll meet and talk with Mariah as she emerges in her chosen gown.

The 2013 free giveaway will be Saturday, April 6, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the Reny’s Plaza in Belfast. Dressing rooms will be available to try on gowns, and Cinderella Project staff and other community volunteers will be on hand to assist with the selection process.

• The Cinderella Project seeks to promote a positive body image and increased self esteem by uniting girls in the state of Maine with "fabulous" and free new and gently used prom gowns. For more information visit their website: cinderellaprojectofmaine.org

Kay Stephens can be reached at news@penbaypilot.com