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Melissa Shaner and Jennifer McCaig

About four years ago, Melissa Shaner and her sister Jennifer McCaig got the idea to start a program that helps girls get prom dresses—especially girls whose families are unable to afford a formal dress and accessories. Shaner says the idea finally took off this year after she shared it with Tucson City Councilman Rodney Glassman. Now, the sisters, who have collected about 300 dresses and 320 pairs of shoes, just need more girls: Thus far, only eight have registered for the program. For more information on Cinderella's Closet, visit www.cinderellasclosettucson.com.

How did you come up with the idea?

Jennifer: About four years ago, in Melissa's kitchen, we were having coffee and going through this magazine and came upon this article about something similar in Atlanta. They called it something else, but basically it's the same concept—collecting dresses and giving them to girls so they could go to prom. We did some research. We just knew that someday, when we could swing it, we'd get it going. It was our 2010 project.

Melissa: We didn't know where to start at first as a nonprofit. But back in May, I was having lunch with Rodney Glassman, the Ward 2 councilman, and I told him about our idea, and he thought it was great. He said, "I want to be part of it. What can I do to help you?" That day, he blasted an e-mail out to the YWCA (and the) Girl Scouts, and basically said, "Can you guys help them?" I always joke that we call Rodney our fairy godfather. ... Because of him, the YWCA agreed to host it as a program, and the Girl Scouts have helped with media.

What's amazed you about this process?

Melissa: How the whole community has come together. BolchalkFReY volunteered to do all of our marketing for free. Through that, we met a couple of other people. Hem and Her—it's a dress shop—they've volunteered to give out tuxedo rentals to the boys, and all they have to do is pay a $25 clean fee.

What do you need now?

Melissa: We are struggling to get the high schools involved. I know winter formal is going on (soon), and girls just aren't thinking about prom, so we're going to extend our deadline to Feb. 15 to try to get more girls.

What's important about making sure girls have prom dresses?

Jennifer: For us, it's that whole pay-it-forward thing. That was an important part of our growing up. In our generation, it's really hard to find some people who are willing to give back. But this is also about keeping girls active in school. Some guy knocked it, (saying) that it's such a silly thing collecting prom dresses. But if you keep a girl excited about school, and you keep her involved, than she's more likely to stay in school.

When girls register, what kind of info do they have to provide?

Jennifer: They're not going to be made to feel uncomfortable. Maybe you really want to go to the prom, but it's not something that's important to your parents. Maybe you come from a family that can't afford a dress. ... We aren't going to ask them to prove they can't afford a dress. We want them to show up and let us treat them like princesses when they come to do this. They don't have to prove hardship: (They just need to give their) name, number and e-mail address.

Do you want the dresses back?

Melissa: It's not a loan. We're going to ask them to bring (the dress) back, but they don't have to. If they don't, they have a good reason for keeping it. We're going to put a drop box at the high schools and just continue to get the word out there to the community. We have a Web site; we have a Facebook account, so that when a girl's done with prom, she thinks, "Oh, Cinderella's Closet," or when someone is getting married, and they want to do something with the bridesmaids' dresses, they think of us. We just want to constantly stand out.

What inspired you two?

Jennifer: I think it's all our mom. When we were growing up, she always worked two jobs, and yet she always made sure to help someone if there was somebody out there in need. I remember when we were 7 or 8 years old, she was a cashier at Safeway, and a couple had come through; their entire house had burned down. She came home and asked us to go through our toys. She's always made it important that we give back.

More by Mari Herreras

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