Photo by Life Photo Studios
Lenora Kingcott is a co-producer of Bridal Expo, the annual Calgary wedding show that takes place in the fall at Stampede Park. For the past eight years, Kingcott has also volunteered her time and experience to the Cinderella Gown Project, an initiative that provides underprivileged girls in Grade 12 with new and gently-used graduation dresses.
The project began in 2005 as an initiative of teachers and fashion-studies students at Sir Winston Churchill High School. Since then, it has grown citywide with the help of a corps of more than 200 volunteers. Though it continues to operate under the umbrella of the Calgary Board of Education (Sir Winston Churchill remains the drop-off point for dress donations), the project now reaches outside the CBE into all types of schools.
This year, 358 girls have been invited to Cinderella Project headquarters, where they’ll be given dresses and everything else they need for their big day, including shoes, wraps and cosmetics. We caught up with Kingcott to talk about her experiences working with the project over the past eight years, and why you don’t wear mascara on gown-selection day.
So, I’m a girl, I’m in Grade 12, my family is struggling financially, how would I connect with the Cinderella Project?
“You go to your school counsellor and they can connect you with our school-based “godmother.” Sometimes the godmother will be the school counsellor and sometimes it’s someone else within the school. The school counsellors are really in tune with who is struggling financially. Sometimes there’s been a sudden change in that family’s situation and sometimes they are identifying a girl in Grade 12 who is already living independently and trying to support herself while going to school. The nice thing about this project is that it’s not paperwork-heavy. It’s very personal. When you’re struggling financially it seems like you’re always filling out a form for some rebate. I love the fact that there’s no red tape, it’s just the teachers, the counsellors, our school-based godmothers saying: ‘we know you need help’.”
And the girls keep the dresses? They don’t just get them for the night?
“Yes. And when they realize they get to keep it, we all cry. It’s a no-mascara day. Some of the girls have their moms with them or their social workers and one year we had a mom who hadn’t seen the beautiful invitation we give each girl and she didn’t understand the process – there was a language barrier there – and when she realized that it was all free she just lost it.”
Do the girls from the project send pictures?
“Well another factor of the Cinderella Project is that it’s very private. No one knows who’s invited, we keep the dates secret and we really protect their privacy. But we do get absolutely beautiful thank-you letters, which sometimes do include a picture and those are amazing. Sometimes, years after the fact, we’ll get a thank-you letter from a girl about how the experience of total gifting and love with no strings attached changed how they accepted love from people.”
That’s really beautiful.
“It is. We cry all the time.”
What was your own graduation like? What did you wear?
“Oh wow! My graduation. I grew up in central Alberta; it was 1978 and I wore a white peasant dress and it was just such a great day with all of my friends. I think that’s a big part of the inspiration for the [project volunteers] – that feeling and that lifelong memory. When you just asked me right now about my grad I instantly thought of 18-year-old me walking out my parents’ door in that dress that I shopped for, just feeling so special. It’s really about personal empowerment, self-esteem and giving the girls a lifelong memory. And that’s why we all work so hard.”
So thinking back to 18-year-old you, walking out the door in your peasant dress, what advice would you give to that girl?
“Believe in yourself and know that it will always be okay. All the tough times when you stress and you worry, I think if I knew internally that it all was going to be okay I wouldn’t have wasted so much time stressing over small things.”
For more information about the Cinderella Project visit cinderellaproject.ca.