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Published: Saturday, 4/12/2014

COMMENTARY

Sandusky woman helps teen girls live their Cinderella dreams

BY MARILOU JOHANEK
BLADE COLUMNIST
Johanek Johanek
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A high school prom is not the pinnacle of anything. Those of us who left high school in the rearview mirror eons ago know there is a life beyond the prom, locker gossip, and the latest litmus test of teenage acceptance.

But teens live for now — for getting through the good, bad, and ugly, between 7 a.m. and 3 p.m. They live to compare, contrast, size up, and knock down.

They’re keenly aware of what everyone else is wearing, who’s dating, how they stack up in school and sports, where they fit in the socioeconomic world of high school. Fitting in is a big deal.

Going to the prom, and wowing peers with a dress to die for, is an even bigger deal. But getting to the major social event of teenage life, with gown and glass slippers, can be difficult.

Look what Cinderella went through — and she had help. Fortunately, fairy godmothers are still working their magic.

Annette Ferrell is one of them. She runs Cinderella’s Closet in Sandusky (cinderellascloset.sanduskyspotlight.com). The store is open leading up to proms (and homecomings) for high school princesses who need a dress to go with all the glitter that makes a grand entrance.

Proms are pricey affairs. In 2013, Ohio teens who attended proms were projected to spend an average of $722 per person, according to a survey by Visa.

The national average is higher and prom costs continue to rise. So Ms. Ferrell decided to make a difference — ugly stepsisters or financial circumstances notwithstanding — in deciding who gets to go to the ball.

Ferrell Ferrell
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She started four years ago just after she lost her job. In the short time it took her to land a new position, she stumbled into an unexpected calling.

Inspiration came from a woman in Kentucky who opened a Cinderella’s Closet there after she watched a young girl come up short when she tried to pay for a thrift-store dress. The woman, Erin Peterson, impulsively paid for the dress that neither the teen nor her foster mom could afford.

The experience planted a seed in the Good Samaritan. She eventually built a program, now in its eighth year, to help other shorthanded prom shoppers.

Ms. Ferrell was motivated to do the same in Ohio. With support from her church and a “phenomenal” team of volunteers, she filled her “closet” with gowns, shoes, and accessories that are available at no cost to prom goers in a predicament.

Through donations, goodwill, and generous gifts of new and gently used gowns, she opened Cinderella’s Closet on a floor of a former elementary school in Sandusky, where the next shopping event will be from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. April 26.

A few weekends before a prom — and homecoming in the fall — teenagers are invited to shop by appointment at what has been magically transformed into a pop-up store. The girls are usually referred by guidance counselors, churches, guardians, and parents.

“They come from everywhere, Michigan, Toledo, Cleveland, the surrounding area,” Ms. Ferrell said. “Many people are affected by the economy. We get foster children, special-needs kids, foreign exchange students, teens being raised by a single parent.

“One girl from Elyria had cancer,” Ms. Ferrell said. “Medical costs put such a burden on her family. They contacted us to help her get a dress for a special evening.”

Ms. Ferrell calls her young clientele “cream of the crop” kids. “They expect little. They’re delightful to serve and so happy with what they receive.”

Since the Sandusky program began, more than 700 girls have been outfitted with the help of personal shoppers at Cinderella’s Closet.

“It’s all about them [teens],” Ms. Ferrell said. “They get better service than what they would receive in a department store.”

Next year, Ms. Ferrell hopes to initiate a college scholarship program aligned with Cinderella’s Closet, to help girls dream beyond the ball. But now is a time for memory-making, for perusing garment racks that burst with color and sequins. Grant money even allowed Cinderella’s Closet to outfit local Prince Charmings with rented tuxedos this year.

In the big picture, a high school prom may not merit attention. But for teenagers who are programmed to strive to belong, it can be everything.

With the help of Cinderella’s Closet, the prom is possible for every teenager who still believes in magic.

Marilou Johanek is a columnist for The Blade. 

Contact Blade columnist Marilou Johanek at: mjohanek@theblade.com



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