Charity creates fairy tale for local teens

The Cinderella Project has collected more than 850 dresses.

As high school dance season approaches, local businesses are collecting donated dresses to make prom night special for underprivileged girls.

To date, Cinderella Project MKE has collected 850 prom dresses at more than 15 businesses throughout Milwaukee. The effort is sponsored by the Gadzuric Foundation, started by Milwaukee Bucks center Dan Gadzuric and his wife Lisette in late 2009.

Lisette Gadzuric said the Cinderella Project MKE began as a way to combine her two passions: charity work and fashion. Gadzuric previously worked with other foundations to support charities, but wanted to have her own.

London Cleaners, 778 N. Milwaukee St., is dry cleaning the donated dresses for free. That means the foundation will have extra funds to purchase plus-size dresses, Gadzuric said.

Locations accepting donations include Ozaukee Family Services, Legacy Boys and Girls Clubs, Christian Faith Fellowship Church, Destiny Youth Plaza, Northside YMCA and select area high schools, according to the Gadzuric Foundation Web site.

Dresses can be donated through April 3. Damaged or outdated dresses cannot be accepted.

In order to receive a dress, girls complete an online application, which requires a short essay about themselves and a letter of support from a teacher or mentor. Applicants attend a two-hour workshop consisting of etiquette class or motivational speeches before receiving dresses, Gadzuric said.

“We have brought some amazing mentors,” she said. “They talk to the girls about making smart prom and relationship choices, how to carry themselves like a lady and give them tips on how to make their night special.”

So far, 50 applications for dresses have been submitted, Gadzuric said, and no one is denied a dress as long as all requirements are fulfilled.

Clai Green, owner of Luci Boutique, 532 N. Water Street, said his boutique has collected 150 dresses since January, making it one of the largest drop-off points.

Green said Luci Boutique donates to 10 women’s charitable groups throughout the year. The boutique is offering a 25 percent discount on store purchases with the donation of a dress for the Cinderella Project MKE.

“(The project) has been really successful,” Green said. “Especially considering the way the economy is right now, it works well for both sides. It gives families that can’t afford prom dresses a new opportunity.”

While no Marquette group is involved in the Cinderella Project MKE, some organizations have participated in similar dress donation efforts in the past.

One such group, Alpha Phi, helped conduct a dress drive in 2008, said Lauren Frey, the sorority’s president. Dresses were donated to Fred’s Boutique, 524 N. Water St., for a separate charity.

“Any place that you get a large group of women together, as long as you have the determination toward it, you could pull (this project) off,” said Frey, a junior in the College of Business Administration. “I think it’s a really good idea and a great opportunity to help girls who are less fortunate.”

Gadzuric said the project’s main goal is to reach out to underprivileged girls in the area.

“Milwaukee has a large pregnancy and drop-out rate,” she said. “Prom is something most girls want to participate in. It’s all about empowering and leading these young ladies.”