At its annual boutique, Fairy Goodmothers grants prom dreams for girls in need

It's midnight on a brisk Friday night in April, and a line of teenage girls is forming outside the door of a pop-up shop open only five days every spring. The tickets these young ladies are here for--which gain them entry into the boutique the next morning--carry the promise to make their princess-like prom dreams a reality.

One of the girls waiting needs a dress for her friend who lost everything in a house fire the night before. Another has been battling leukemia her whole life; her parents spent every extra dollar to pay medical expenses for a daughter they didn't expect to live to the age of 3. Then there's a foreign exchange student who's never heard of the high school tradition, but is excited to experience a new custom.

Entering in small groups, girls look around in awe at the sparkling pink draping, racks of formal gowns, shoes, purses and jewelry.

This can't be real, a skeptic may think at first. But when she stands in front of the mirror, in a gown that fits like it was made just for her, the defenses melt away. She smiles.

"Their faces glow, and they straighten up. It's so exciting to see them just be happy," said Jill Fergus through tearing eyes. She is president of Fairy Goodmothers, a Central Ohio nonprofit started by a group of Dublin and Upper Arlington women that, since 2005, has been providing local girls in need with prom dresses and accessories at no cost.

At last year's boutique at The Shops at Worthington Place, 1,078 "Cinderella girls" were outfitted head-to-toe for their high school dances--a 30 percent increase from the year before. Students represented 138 high schools in the area, proving to the "fairies" (as volunteers call themselves) that the need isn't just great, it's everywhere. With more than 4,000 gowns in their inventory, the hope is to help even more teens this year.

During the five-day boutique, each girl is allowed one female guest (dads, uncles and boyfriends are kindly asked to wait outside) and is given a personal shopper to help her navigate the racks. Dresses are a combination of gently-used donations and new gowns purchased with funds raised throughout the year. For $30, Fairy Goodmothers can buy a new gown--which retail anywhere from $150 to $450--from partnering stores. For $40, they can supply an entire outfit. Girls are also given goodie bags with coupons for up-dos, manicures, boutonnieres and other prom-related needs to help defray costs.

But their purpose is more than just providing a pretty look. The goal is to build self esteem. With this in mind, no girl is asked to qualify her need for a dress.

"It's an opportunity for them to feel beautiful, to feel worthy and to feel more than adequate," said Anne Garlock Houser, Fairy Goodmothers vice president, who admits the rewards are just as great for the more than 300 volunteers who make the boutique possible. "You go home at the end of the day emotionally exhausted in the best way possible. I can't explain what this boutique means to each girl. It's such a rewarding thing."

Fund a fairytale

There are a variety of ways to get involved with Fairy Goodmothers. Here's how.

Host a dress drive: Ask for donations from co-workers, friends and school groups. Dresses can be dropped at Charles Penzone salons, Callander Cleaners and HER Real Living offices.

Volunteer: Sign up to help at the spring boutique. Volunteers are needed in many ways, such as set-up, dress tagging, clean-up and as personal shoppers.

Donate a Dream: For $40, you can outfit a girl from head-to-toe. Donations for new gowns are used to fill in missing dress sizes to serve as many girls as possible.

Cinderella's Closet Boutique will be held on April 7, 9, 10, 14 and 16. For more information visit FairyGoodmothers.org.