Prom season is fast approaching. It's a fun and exciting time for many teens, but for others, it's a big disappointment. The cost that runs in the hundreds or thousands of dollars is just too high to go to the dance, but a special organization is stepping in to save the day.
It all started six years ago, when a couple of friends in a women's church group took an idea they saw in another state and brought it to the Fox Valley. Since then, Operation Cinderella has been making prom fairy tales come true.
The magic of prom almost didn't happen for Daytana Roloff. A loss of family income ,following the death of her mother, made it a financial struggle to go to the dance.
"My sister had my mom there when she went to her prom. My aunt and everyone pitched in for her dress, and then it was just kind of left onto my dad to figure out, 'Hey, we have to get her a dress.'"
That's when Kimberly High School counselor Katie Phillip told Daytana about Operation Cinderella. Phillip works as a liaison, connecting students in need with the non-profit organization.
"They have such a heart for all of the girls, and they really go out of their way to choose a girl that they really feel would benefit," explained Operation Cinderella Co-Founder Jill Vanden Oever.
Then she and fellow co-founder Mary Linden send the girls beautiful invitations to attend a one day boutique at UW-Fox Valley.
"It's like prom on steroids," Vanden Oever chuckled.
When the girls arrive, they're paired with a fairy godmother who helps them choose the perfect dress, shoes and jewelry. It's all donated by community members and area businesses and given to the girl free of charge.
Vanden Oever says, "It's a day where a girl can forget her story. You know she can forget the sadness, the hardship of her life."
"It also helps the girls realize that, 'Oh yeah, someone does care, someone does want to help me,'" explains Daytana.
The girls also get their hair, make-up and nails done by the 120 volunteers it takes to make the event happen.
Linden says, "You know, we can't fix all their problems. We can't fix whatever their situation is. We can fix one day."
This year, 300 girls from 24 schools will get the royal treatment.
"You see people who've held their own, they've been solidly middle class, and then something's happened. They always say you're two paychecks away from disaster and some people have had that disaster happen, so the need has been incredible," Linden said.
Now in her senior year, Daytana will once again be one of the non-profit's princesses.
"To see the smile on her face for one, to see the enjoyment from the day, has been very rewarding for me as a counselor," said Phillip.
Daytana adds, "I had my happy day that I didn't have to worry about school, I didn't have to worry about grieving, I didn't have to worry about anything other than being myself and getting what I wanted for my prom."
Daytana is even donating last year's dress back to the organization, so another girl can make new memories to last a lifetime.
There are still spots open for girls to attend the free dress giveaway event on Saturday, April 2nd at 9:00am at the UW-Fox Valley Communication Arts Center in Menasha. You can contact the organization on their website
and Facebook page
to learn more. They're also in need of volunteer hair stylists and donations of silver shoes and silver clutches.
Operation Cinderella's motto is "It's more than just a dress." After seeing many of the girls' struggling with self-esteem issues, they expanded the program to include an empowerment conference in the fall.