Alliance helps teens get set for prom with free dresses

Maria Cheshier is the girl you want by your side when you’re trying on prom dresses.

The Carroll High School junior was generous with compliments Saturday when talking about her friends and the treasures they found at Cinderella Dress Day.

Paige Anders, a Carroll senior, chose a navy blue gown. “It looks really pretty on her,” Cheshier said.

Isabell Kluck, a Carroll sophomore, selected a black and white dress with rhinestone accents. “It’s poufy!” Cheshier said of her friend’s new dress. “She looks really good in it.”

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Anders, Kluck and Cheshier were among about 500 girls who received free prom dresses at the Fort Wayne Medical Society Alliance’s 18th annual event. This year it was at Ceruti’s Summit Park, where some girls waited as long as four hours to get first selection when the doors opened at noon.

The alliance always includes health and wellness components to its charitable events, said Nasreen Ahmed, co-chair of Cinderella Dress Day. Girls, who were allowed to enter in groups of 20, were asked to stop at several booths to receive health-related information before entering the dressing area.

At those stops, volunteers gave short presentations, including warnings about the dangers of texting and driving, suntanning, sexually transmitted diseases and drinking sugar-filled drinks.

Middle- and high school-aged girls are invited to participate. Almost 300 teens swarmed the volunteer-run event in its first hour this year.

More than 1,500 dresses were available this year, organizers said. They estimate the event has distributed 2,500 dresses worth more than $250,000 to local teens over the years. No one is asked to demonstrate financial need to receive a dress.

Peerless Cleaners collects gently used dresses for the event year-round. Local retailers and community members also donate new dresses, bras, shoes and accessories. The girls are each allowed to choose two accessories.

Among the dozens of volunteers, some altered dresses on the spot, some teased out fancy hairdos and others put protective plastic bags over the chosen gowns.

Jasmin Nichols, a South Side High School freshman, walked away with a floor-length, black dress with a halter top and crystal embellishment. It was the first one she tried on.

Emily Tarr, a Wayne High School sophomore, will attend the prom with her sister in a floor-length salmon gown, gold shoes and a necklace.

If it wasn’t for the chance to get free dresses, they probably wouldn’t be able to attend the dance, Emily said.

“We don’t have the money for that,” she said.

Suzanne Kluck was there with her daughter, Isabell, who is the fourth of five kids. Kluck said it cost $300 to $500 each for her older kids to go to the prom.

“It’s a big help,” she said of the dress giveaway. “My husband is usually laid off this time of year. He works construction. When it gets nice out, he’ll be working again.”

Maria Cheshier, the supportive friend, scored a floor-length pink gown with a halter top and crystal embellishment.

“The only reason I want to go to prom is because I want to dress up in a dress,” she said. “Afterward, I’m going laser-tagging with a friend.”

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