Dream Come True

LSU Students Join Forces with The Cinderella Project of Baton Rouge to Provide Dresses for Area Teens

by Aaron Looney


Spring is a time where high school students across the country look forward to certain rites of passage. For young women who are juniors and seniors, this includes finding that perfect dress to wear to their school’s annual prom event.

However, some students may not be able to afford formal dresses for such occasions, which can ultimately have a negative effect on their self-esteem.

Twenty-six students in the Textile Science, Apparel Design and Merchandising – or TAM – Division of the LSU College of Agriculture’s School of Human Ecology are doing their part to help those less fortunate students, as they are joining with The Cinderella Project to help create and distribute prom dresses this season.

“It’s an honor to be on this journey with The Cinderella Project,” said LSU School of Human Ecology Assistant Professor Lisa Barona McRoberts. “The group’s deep commitment fosters positive self-image in teenage girls across Louisiana. Our participation in this endeavor affords us the opportunity to impact our community, while instilling social responsibility in our students and integrating eco-conscious design and production techniques. We’re humbled to be assisting in the fulfillment of The Cinderella Project’s mission.”

McRoberts said that as part of her senior-level apparel production course, the students will have designed a mini-collection of three garments. Their second garment is what she calls a “socially responsible” garment, which will be donated to The Cinderella Project.

“I had the opportunity to make this a service-learning course for our seniors,” McRoberts said. “It’s given us an opportunity to give to our community, teach our students about responsibility and, hopefully, to create an impact in the future as designers that they will incorporate this into their practices.”

McRoberts said that her students are taking existing dresses that might not be able to be distributed and repurposing the usable materials to create new dresses that can be used as part of the program, while respecting the environment.

Sarah Dupree, co-founder of The Cinderella Project, said her organization collects more than 8,000 dresses each year. Of those, only about one-third can be distributed within the organizations’ guidelines.

“What we’ve done in the past, and this year as well, is that the dresses we don’t use, we give to the LSU Textiles Museum for use at their sale to help raise funds for their projects as well,” Dupree said. We've given stuff that has archival value as well. The museum has been a good help to us in moving forward, especially in this year."

Martha Landry, a senior design student from Baton Rouge, said she was happy to be working with The Cinderella Project.

“This is a great opportunity to help people that may be in a situation where they can’t afford a prom dress,” she said.

“I remember when I was in high school, and prom was a big deal. I’m really excited to be able to help less fortunate students out there be able to enjoy prom.”

Belle of the ball

As part of the cooperative endeavor between LSU and The Cinderella Project, a fundraiser runway fashion show titled “The Cinderella Project Runway” will be held on Thursday, March 24, at 7:30 p.m. at The Lyceum Ballroom, 124 3rd St., Baton Rouge.

“The show will feature garments designed and created by the students,” McRoberts said. “There will also be garments created by several graduate students that are eager to take part and LSU alumni who are incredibly talented local designers including Anthony Ryan Auld, Natasha Marie, Molly Stackhouse, Julie Thibodeaux and Sarah Winn.”

The day before the fashion show, five judges will review the students’ designs, and announce the top three winners at the event. The judges include Ty Larkins, owner of Ty Larkins Interiors; Karen Martin, assistant People editor of The Advocate; Elizabeth McCollister, account executive with 225 Magazine; Jeanne McCollister, director of events for 225 Magazine and InRegister; and Amy Strother, owner of eco-friendly boutique Noelie Harmon.

“This is a first for our program, and probably the biggest thing we’ve done to date,” Dupree said. “We are thrilled to partner with the talented students in LSU’s School of Human Ecology. By hosting this unique showcase event, we hope to inspire high school students to strive towards achieving their future academic and professional goals, whether they are in fashion design or other pursuits.”

Doors open for the “Cinderella Project Runway” show at 6:30 p.m. Tickets are only available at the door the night of the show, with only cash or check accepted. Two levels of ticketing include $75 tickets per person for reserved runway seating, which also includes beverages and appetizers provided by Bonanno’s Fine Catering, and $20 tickets per person for general admission.

Dupree said that funds raised at Cinderella Project Runway will go towards the purchase of plus-size dresses, to ensure that every applicant receives the perfect dress.

“We don’t receive plus-sized dresses very much, probably about 100 per year,” she said. “Our goal in fundraising for the entire year is buying plus-sized dresses. The average size of a Louisiana teen is an 18 through a 22, so it’s very important for us to raise funds.”

The LSU TAM students will also take part in The Cinderella Project’s 2011 Dress Giveaway, which is set for Saturday, April 2, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and on Sunday, April 3, from noon to 4 p.m. at the A.C. Lewis Branch of the YMCA, 350 S. Foster Dr., Baton Rouge. The garments created by the LSU TAM students will be donated as part of the event on April 2, between 2 p.m. and 5 p.m.

Junior and senior high school students and brides who are in financial need are welcome to attend the donation event. No referrals or applications are required. A valid high school ID is required for students, and students must be accompanied by a female parent or guardian. With registration, students will each receive a 30-minute shopping appointment. Sign-ups are on a first-come, first-served basis beginning at 8:30 a.m. on Saturday, April 2.

“What we’d like to do is have the girls realize that we in the community are more involved,” Dupree said. “When we have volunteers come for the actual dress giveaway and to help sort dresses, the girls don’t see that. For us to be able to have the community see that there’s people at LSU who are creating and giving these dresses away is big, and it shows that this is a much bigger project than people realize.”

About Cinderella Project

Founded in January 2008 in Baton Rouge, The Cinderella Project is a non-profit 501(c) 3 organization. The group collects donations, both of gently used dresses and monetary contributions, to provide free prom dresses and wedding gowns to junior and senior high school students and brides in Louisiana who cannot otherwise afford them. Since 2008, The Cinderella Project has distributed approximately 2,650 dresses to students at 59 high schools in 13 parishes. In addition to the Baton Rouge chapter, The Cinderella Project also has chapters in both Lafayette and Monroe.

“The Cinderella Project is a way for us to give back to the community,” said Dupree, who co-founded the organization with Shelton Jones. “Our goal is to provide educational outreach and community-based projects that are designed to build confidence and self-esteem for young adults.”

While The Cinderella Project of Baton Rouge hosts donation events at various locations prior to prom season, there are three permanent dress drop-off locations:

  • The offices of Baton Rouge Parents Magazine, located at 11831 Wentling Ave., Baton Rouge. Dresses can be dropped off anytime between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday.
  • Appletree Storage, located at 10560 Perkins Road, Baton Rouge. Dresses can be dropped off Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.
  • Overpass Cleaners, located at 2929 Perkins Road, Baton Rouge. Dresses can be dropped off Monday through Friday from 6:30 a.m. until 6 p.m., and Saturday from 7 a.m. to noon.

“With our mission statement being ‘Building self esteem and self empowerment,’ we want these girls throughout the state to know that we care about them,” Dupree said. “Being girls, having a rite of passage like prom means they’re about to graduate. We want them to know that we’re proud of them. We want them to have the same night that every other girl in the state gets.”

To learn more about The Cinderella Project, including how to donate or volunteer, call 225-302-0203, visitwww.cinderellaprojectbr.org, visit the group’s Facebook page or e-mailvolunteer@cinderellaprojectbr.org.

For more information on the LSU School of Human Ecology’s Textile Science, Apparel Design and Merchandising Division, visit http://www.huec.lsu.edu.

Advisory services and funding for this project were provided through the LSU Center for Community Engagement, Learning & Leadership, or CCELL. The center promotes learning, student leadership and community engagement through service-learning activities and community partnerships. For more information, visit http://www.ccell.lsu.edu.

VIDEO by Frank Bourgeois/LSU University Relations

Photos by Eddy Perez/LSU University Relations