There’s a space located in a dressing room inside Tahoma High School filled with glitter, lace, cotton, silk and more in all types of colors. Lined in rows is just over 100 different homecoming dresses, waiting for the perfect high school student to come and try them on.
The dresses are part of the Cinderella Project, at Parent-Teacher Association (PTA) program that lets students borrow prom dresses or homecoming dresses for free. The program is hosted at Tahoma High School, Kentridge, Kentlake, Kentwood and Kent-Meridian high schools. While the Kent School District’s PTA only offers dresses during prom, the volunteers at Tahoma High School opened it up to homecoming as well.
“We do dresses for each dance,” PTA member and mother Jennifer Walker said. “I’ve been a stay-at-home mom. I have an 11th grader and one in college. I’ve always been involved in the PTA. But the woman who ran (the Cinderella Project) retired so (Laurie Willis) and I took a chance on it.”
Willis is also a PTA member who volunteers with Walker and fellow PTA member Cindy Erickson to collect, clean, store and move the dresses. The project is funded through the Tahoma PTA’s budget.
The three were at Tahoma High School on Monday, Sept. 9, organizing the dresses by size, checking for stains and tears, and fixing up mannequins to line the halls of the school.
“As long as the dresses look new and are in really good shape we will keep it,” Walker said. “If they start to look too worn we will toss it. We will look at each dress, if I can take it home and clean it I do. If it won’t make it we take it out.”
Some of the dresses are so new the Macy’s tag are still attached to the sides.
The Cinderella Project was started on the east coast almost 20 years ago and has spread across school districts all over the nation. While it helps students whose parents may not be able to afford a new dress each year for every school dance, its open to all students who want to save $100-plus on a one-time outfit.
“I would never ask a girl about their income status,” Walker said. “And honestly who wouldn’t want to save $200 on a dress and spend it towards something else?”
Erickson pulled out a dark purple-red dress covered in fabric roses and lace to gaze at.
“This one looks homemade,” Erickson said. “It’s so gorgeous.”
The biggest challenge for the three volunteers is getting more students to participate in The Cinderella Project. Walker said those who ran the program before did a good job collecting dresses and keeping everything clean, and organized, but there was a large lack of awareness among high school students.
“Yes, Cinderella Project has always been around, at least while my daughter was going to school,” Willis said. “I think it’s a great cause. But I also see not a lot of kids use it.”
“When they did school photos we handed out fliers and asked the girls if they knew about the program,” Walker said. “All but one said they didn’t know about it, even though its been around for years. I wanted to get it to a point where girls are taking advantage of it. My daughter used it one year and it was awesome.”
During the 2019 Tahoma High School Prom, only two girls came to pick out a dress. The volunteers would love to see all the students take advantage of the program, but their realistic estimate is hopefully 10 to 20 students come and pick a dress for homecoming.
Tahoma’s Homecoming dance is opened to all students unlike Prom, which is reserved for juniors and seniors. Homecoming is planned for the week of Sept. 30, and the dance is set for Saturday, Oct. 5.
Even though there has been little awareness, Willis, Walker and Erickson see the importance in offering the program to the students they love.
“I personally think kids that would like to, you know, go to the dance and feel pretty, and confidence,” Walker said. “What girl doesn’t want that? And if we as a community can make that come to pass we should.”
Tahoma High School students can pick out a dress on a blue day or a gold day during the school’s lunch hours in the school’s theater dressing rooms. The exact dates are Sept. 17, 18, 24 and 25. Students also have a chance to come in on Oct. 1 and 2 during lunch.
For prom season in Kent students can borrow a dress on the following days;
•Kentride – May 2
•Kentlake – May 3
•Kentwood – May 6
•Kent-Meridian – May 7
All dresses must be returned to their schools after the dance.