CRESTVIEW — Two women will help provide formal dresses and accessories for Crestview High School students attending CHS’s May 20 prom.
Aimee Gudinas and Polly McMillan said their collective efforts — The Cinderella Project and Project Sparkle, respectively — have secured 100 new or gently used dresses in sizes 0-22, as well as shoes and jewelry for students in need.
They would like to increase the number of dresses so there will be more choices available in each size.
"We were able to help just about every girl that came in last year,” McMillan said. “Our issue is just growing the program so that we can help more girls ...”
HOW IT ALL BEGAN
The women began helping other students after trying to locate dresses for their own daughters.
Project Sparkle began when McMillan sought a dress for her daughter's first prom in 2014. While finding that dress, McMillan started helping other girls find prom dresses.
"We went on and I got involved with the school and got it going on a bigger scale," McMillan said.
As for Gudinas, one of her daughters found the perfect prom dress — it cost $698.
"(That) is out of budget, so as a joke I posted a picture of her from the band mattress sale (wearing a mattress outfit) and said that that was the only dress in her budget," Gudinas said. "In response to that silly post, I had three people offer me free dresses. None of them were her size, but I asked the ladies if I could go ahead and get them and find homes for them and they said sure. So really that's what started the whole thing."
Gudinas had three daughters who attended prom last year. Being on a budget, she purchased gowns at clearance prices and altered them as needed.
When she found a Facebook ad for the national Cinderella Project program, she wanted to start a version of it at CHS.
That's when she learned about Project Sparkle and she and McMillan began working together.
PRICED OUT OF PROM
Even prom dresses’ resale value can be $150 to $350, according to Gudinas.
"I know many high school girls that have not been able to go to prom because of the expense,” she said. “I have learned that a lot of these young ladies are too shy or even maybe a little ashamed that they cannot afford a dress that is in style, so instead they just tell their friends they just don't want to go.
“So for the past several years I have helped these girls find bargain dresses that have been on sale at local boutiques.”
McMillan said Project Sparkle grows each year, and she and Gudinas hope they attract enough participation to expand the program to Baker and Laurel Hill students next year.
Prom isn’t just for girls; similarly, the women would also like to assist with male students’ tuxedo rentals.
"We really need cash donations to help the young men,” Gudinas said. “The average tuxedo rental is $100 and up. Cash donations will be used to offset the cost of renting a tuxedo and the local boutique owners will help by offering less expensive rental rates for a few young men."
McMillan said while tuxedos are a goal for Project Sparkle's future, "I've not been able to grow it that far ... I've got someone brainstorming on that for me so hopefully we'll be able to incorporate it soon."
HOW TO HELP
Residents can donate new or gently used items, or nominate a student for the dress programs, by May 5.
Drop-off locations are:
•The Cottage Boutique & Formal Wear, 196 Main St. N., Crestview
•A Hand Up Consignment Boutique, 80B Beal Parkway, Fort Walton Beach
•Coldwell Banker Realty, 2514 S. Ferdon Blvd. S., Crestview
Contact McMillan, 333-6469 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or Gudinas, through “The Cinderella Project Crestview Florida” Facebook page, for more information or to volunteer prom services such as hair and nail preparations, or assistance the day they distribute dresses and accessories.