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Boutique helps girls go to prom in style

A pair of paralegals are collecting donated formal dresses for students who otherwise might not be able to afford to go.

By KRISTINE MILLEN

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 22, 2000


Cinderella never had it so good.

Although she had a magical evening, she didn't have fairy godmothers like Jennifer Ditro and Pam Seligman.

They're hoping to find high school girls who might benefit from their Cinderella Project, a non-profit organization to aid girls who can't afford to attend, in vogue, their high school proms.

Ditro, 29, and Seligman, 39, are seeking donations of new or gently used formal dresses -- something a teenage girl would not be embarrassed to wear.

Girls in need will be able to shop for free dresses in a retail-like setting in a makeshift boutique in the Palm Harbor law firm where the women work as paralegals.

Unlike Ditro, who had a new dress at the four proms she attended at Dunedin High in the late '80s, Seligman's parents could not afford to outfit her for the big dance.

"I never got new clothes for school, let alone a prom dress. My parents just couldn't afford it," said Seligman, who has three children of her own.

Seligman, of Safety Harbor, understands the need but it was Ditro who came up with the Cinderella Project idea.

It was 239 words in the March issue of Family Circle magazine that gave Ditro the idea that she, too, could make a difference.

Ditro read the article about two women in Chicago who formed the Glass Slipper Project and collected more than 1,000 dresses last year for teens who otherwise would not have attended their senior proms.

"I thought, "Hey, I could do that.' I've got nice dresses hanging in my closet that probably won't ever be worn again," said Ditro, a mother of two boys who lives in Oldsmar.

Ditro shared the idea with Seligman and, in less than two weeks, the Cinderella Project was off and running.

The women, who are contacting high schools, are not sure yet how great the need is in Pinellas County but they want to be prepared. So far, they have received 10 dresses and have split the $50 cost of a dress rack and five folding tables for their makeshift boutique. It's a start, they say, but the success will depend on more donations.

Chic shoes, evening bags, jewelry and unopened hosiery and cosmetics also are needed. And, of course, they'll accept cash.

St. Petersburg High principal Linda Benware said she is so excited about the project, she has handed out information on the project to all of her teachers.

"It's very clever, a great idea," she said. "It may be slow to catch on until more girls know about it, but I do think there are a lot of kids out there who have a need."

Benware also offered her school as a drop-off site for donations and possibly another boutique more convenient for south county students.

Girls who shop at the boutique will have the chance to win a free makeover at a beauty salon, dinner for two or a limousine for prom night.

"Picture a girl turning down a guy because she knows her mom can't buy her a dress," Seligman said. "We don't want that to happen. They shouldn't miss the opportunity just because they can't afford a dress."

How to help

Donations may be dropped off at the law firm of Florin, Roebig and Walker, 777 Alderman Road, Palm Harbor; Countryside Baptist Church, 2525 McMullen-Booth Road, Clearwater; or St. Petersburg High School, 2501 Fifth Ave. N. The boutique at the law firm will be open for teen shoppers from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. April 8 and 15 and evenings by appointment. Jennifer Ditro or Pam Seligman may be reached at 786-5000.

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