by Lou Mancinelli
It was during the spring season four years ago that West Mt. Airy resident Pamela Washington’s son, Calvin, now 21, was going to his senior prom at Central High School. (She also has a daughter, Rachel, 16, who will graduate from Central High next year.) Calvin’s girlfriend needed a dress. Washington had seen an ad in a local publication about a Prom Fair. It featured thousands of new formal dresses and accessories, and the dresses were a mere $5 apiece.
“I figured, ‘Why not check this out,’” said Washington during a telephone interview in mid-January. “I liked the idea so much that I volunteered the next year.”
Each spring, members of Fairy Godmothers, Inc., and volunteers host a Prom Fair at the Cheltenham Square Mall, located at 2385 W. Cheltenham Avenue.
The group’s mission is to provide young ladies with the opportunity to purchase quality dresses, shoes, handbags, make-up and jewelry they might not be able to afford otherwise. Prices have gone up in the past six years, but prom dresses are still just $10, and a girl can buy a dress and accessories for about $20.
“The whole event of the prom is huge,” said Washington. “It’s a major social event. Prom gowns can be expensive. This gives young ladies a chance to buy them who may not be able to afford them any other way.”
This year, members of Fairy Godmothers are in need of new and gently-used formal wear, sizes 14 and larger during its Prom Drive on Saturday, Feb. 26. The Prom Drive is where Godmothers (volunteers) collect gowns. If someone in the area is interested in donating a dress but cannot make the Drive, Washington will pick up the dress from the donor’s home. The actual Prom Fair occurs the last three Saturdays in March. All events are at the Cheltenham Mall.
Girls must be juniors or seniors in high-school and have valid school identification in order to purchase a dress, according to the organization’s Web site. Other people may not shop for a girl unless the girl is physically present. The girls are asked to wait for the assistance of a “Godmother.” Only one dress per girl is allowed. Small children are not permitted in the shopping area.
Fairy Godmothers, Inc., was founded by Doylestown resident Joyce Jesko 11 years ago. She was at her winter home in Arizona when she saw a picture in a magazine of a woman in a garage surrounded by gowns. The picture accompanied an article about an Arizona woman who had collected gowns from friends and started Fairy Godmothers to help local girls get dresses for their proms.
“When I read the article, I really liked the idea,” said Jesko. “I said that Philadelphia could use something like this.”
Jesko owns Cobra Wire and Cable, Inc., an independent producer of industrial wire and cable with her husband, Paul. She organizes Cobra Wire’s Charity Golf Outing, the proceeds of which benefit the Laurel House and Fairy Godmothers. (Laurel House is a comprehensive domestic violence agency that assists individuals, families and communities throughout Montgomery County. In 1980, it was founded by the Women’s Center of Montgomery County to serve as a domestic violence shelter for abused women and children.) In 2001, she was named one of Pennsylvania’s top 50 women in business and received an award from then-Gov. Tom Ridge.
The Fairy Godmothers Prom Fair has provided almost 1,500 girls with dresses and accessories over the past two years, according to its president Lisa Marie, 43, who began as a volunteer with the organization in 2004.
Jesko stressed the need for sizes 14 and larger. David’s Bridal provides the group with thousands of gowns, but the majority are sizes zero through nine. Jesko said a lot of larger girls also come to the fair.
“You need to give back,” said Washington, 45, the mother of two, who is also active in the New Covenant Church in Mt. Airy. “It’s not necessarily that people are less fortunate, but it’s good for the human spirit. It’s important to me to volunteer with organizations I’m passionate about and believe in like women, the community and youths.”
Washington, who has lived in Northwest Philadelphia for 39 years, will also give back to the community in the form of teaching “Understanding Your Healthcare and Insurance Benefits,” at the Mt. Airy Learning Tree in March.
“It can be confusing to a lot of people, and I have the skill set and the knowledge,” said Washington, a registered nurse who has worked in the insurance industry for 16 years. “So I figured I should teach a class about it.”
Regarding the Prom Fair, Washington insists that “the girls are so grateful. … I have reason to believe some of them don’t have a mother figure.” Washington also volunteers as a Godmother at the Prom Fair, walking around with girls to help them find just the right dress and accessories. If necessary, gowns can be altered at the fair.
For more information about Fairy Godmothers, Inc., or to get involved, visit mypromdress.org or email Lisa Marie at email@example.com. For information about having dresses collected by Washington, email firstname.lastname@example.org. The Prom Fair occurs Saturdays, March 12 and 19, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Saturday, March 26, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. For more information about the MALT course “Understanding Your Healthcare and Insurance Benefits,” call 215-843-6333.