The Cinderella Project, Dress for Success, and Working Gear
Donating Clothing to Charities
Donating clothing to a charity is a great way to help people in need. Charities sell the clothing to raise money for their cause or give the clothes to people in need. Special clothing such as prom dresses, graduation outfits, and work clothes can be very important for people who can't afford to purchase the items themselves.
In Vancouver, British Columbia, the Cinderella Project provides formal clothing and accessories to disadvantaged teenagers so that they can attend their graduation ceremony or prom with their peers. An important goal of the project is to encourage students to stay in school and to graduate.
Another helpful program in Vancouver is the Dress for Success program, which also operates in other locations. The program provides professional clothing for low income women so that they can go to job interviews. It also provides a selection of clothing for the women to wear at work once they get a job. The Working Gear Clothing Society provides suitable work clothing for low income men and for women interested in specific types of careers.
High School Graduation: A Major Life Event
Graduation is a big moment in a teenager's life. In the high school where I taught, the students began planning for the event almost as soon as their Grade 12 year began (and sometimes even at the end of Grade 11). The ceremony was a goal that each year's grad class worked towards all year.
For the senior students in a high school, graduation is often a symbol of their entry into the adult world and the start of their life plan. There's a feeling that after graduation they will be able to control their own destiny in a way that has never been possible before.
Many grad ceremonies at North American High Schools are lavish events, especially those in large high schools. Grad day can be expensive for families. Despite being a modern city and a major tourist attraction, like many other cities Vancouver has its share of social problems. These include poverty and homelessness. For some families, simply getting the necessities of life can be a challenge. Buying a graduation outfit for their teenager is out of the question.
The Purpose of the Cinderella Project in Vancouver
The main goal of the Cinderella Project is to encourage students to stay in school and work towards graduation. If the students know that they will have a formal outfit to wear at their graduation event, they will be able to participate in the excitement leading up to the event as well as the event itself. The project aims to promote inclusiveness for all young people—both females and males—and to celebrate their diversity and their courage.
In addition to providing clothing, the Cinderella Project provides Achievement Awards to students who may not be eligible for traditional scholarships. The aim of the financial awards is to help students with a special need in a specific way. The project wants to give a "hand up" to the students that they help instead of a handout.
The Cinderella Project was started in Vancouver in 1999, but similar programs operate in many other parts of the world. The Vancouver organization is a registered charity and is run entirely by volunteers. Its website includes links to similar organizations in both Canada and the United States.
Who Qualifies for the Cinderella Project?
"Cinderellas" and "cinderfellas" are nominated by school counsellors, teachers, principals, or social workers. They are chosen based on hardship. According to the project website:
- almost half of the students participating in the project are chronically ill or are physically or developmentally challenged
- over two thirds of the students who are able to work go to jobs both before school starts and after it ends to help support their families
- many students are taking care of younger siblings with little help from their parents or are caring for parents who have problems themselves
How Does the Cinderella Project Work?
The project accepts donations of new and used clothing and accessories suitable for a grad ceremony (or prom/ball, depending on how the grad event is organized), as well as cash donations to help the organization operate. Some of the money is used to buy clothing for students with physical problems that prevent most donated clothing from fitting properly.
In the spring, an event called Boutique Day is held in a hotel ballroom. It's described in the video above. At this event the beautiful gowns, shoes, purses, and jewellery for the girls and suits, tuxedos, shirts, and cumberbands for the boys are on display for the grads to examine and choose. Girls and boys have their hair styled and girls have their makeup done.
All of the students have the opportunity to discuss their future plans with a volunteer mentor (a "fairy godmother" or "godfather"). The godparents are meant to be positive role models and have had helpful experiences. Some know sign language or have had experience working with visually impaired people, for example.
The Cinderella Project is open to students in Vancouver and those in nearby communities. Students know that they are part of the project well in advance of grad because they have to fill out an application in the fall of their graduating year. Applications are generally sent to school counsellors in late October or early November. The applications aren't available online.
The Cinderella Project sees Boutique Day not as a handout but rather a way to acknowledge the fact that these outstanding students have achieved a significant milestone and overcome significant challenges to do so.— The Cinderella Project Website
The Dress for Success Program
Unlike the Cinderella Project, the Dress for Success program didn't originate in Vancouver. It was founded in New York City in 1996 with the goal of promoting financial independence for disadvantaged women. The program helps women obtain a job and keep it. Dress for Success provides continuous support for the women and also provides professional development tools.
The Dress for Success program in Vancouver operates a career centre, which provides resources and instructional services for women. Here they can learn to create a resume, experience mock interviews, learn about managing their finances, and practice using computers and other equipment.
Women are referred to the Dress for Success program by organizations such as educational institutions, government agencies, immigration services, homeless shelters, and domestic violence shelters. The program is a registered charity in Vancouver.
Nancy Lublin and Dress for Success
Dress for Success was started by Nancy Lublin with a $5000 inheritance that she received from her great grandfather. She wanted to help low income women take charge of their life. Her not-for-profit organization now operates in 150 cities and in 27 countries.
The Dress for Success organization has established the Professional Women's Group, or PWG, which offers women ongoing help in their working lives. The women can attend meetings at any PWG group in any country where it's available and can obtain individual advice from mentors.
Lublin also created "Do Something", an organization that helps young people to improve conditions in their community. The teens in the program are involved in a wide range of projects that help people in various age groups and with different problems. Projects also involve recycling and helping pets.
The Working Gear Clothing Society
The Dress for Success program provides free work clothes for women only. Another Vancouver charity called Working Gear provides free work clothes for low income men who want to find work after having been unemployed or underemployed for a long time. The clothes include business suits and shoes, clothing and heavy, steel-toed boots for construction workers, and other items. The society also supplies safety gear for women who want to get a job that requires it, which Dress for Success doesn't provide.
The Working Gear Clothing Society is run by volunteers and is supported by people who donate clothing, shoes, money, or time. Clients are referred to the society by community agencies. The aim of Working Gear is not only to help men and some women to get a job but also to improve their self esteem.
Starting a Clothing Donation Program
Projects involving donated clothing for special events may be in operation in a city near you. If not, you could become an affiliate or start a similar project in your community if the idea interests you and if you have the time. You may find that your friends and acquaintances are willing to lend a hand. The websites mentioned in the links below give ideas for helping others with donated clothes. In addition, the Dress for Success worldwide site describes how to become an affiliate of the organization.
The Vancouver programs are wonderful because they help people to improve their lives, either directly or indirectly. They are run by volunteers who want to make a difference in their community. There is another benefit to volunteering besides aiding people in difficulty, however. Volunteers often find that by helping others they are helping themselves. The satisfaction and joy that may be experienced when helping others is a wonderful feeling.
References and Useful Links
© 2013 Linda Crampton