Apparently, Cinderella was an amateur. One ball, one dress, one pair of glass slippers? Piece of cake. The process becomes a lot more complicated each spring, when Angela Pierce turns the whimsical tatters-to-taffeta tale on end, recruiting a platoon of hip and resourceful fairy godmothers to outfit San Diego teen girls for their prom, free of charge. No pumpkin required and, most important, no clock striking midnight to turn their fabulous gowns back into ragged threads.
As contemporary quests do, this all started with the click of a mouse. Two years ago, Pierce, who earned her JD from USD in 2003, had settled into her law career as a prosecutor for the San Diego City Attorney’s Office. She wanted to give back in some way, but how? She’d developed a taste for service as a law student when she volunteered with the debate team at Monarch School for homeless and at-risk children.
“It made me more aware of the fact that when I wasn’t studying for the bar, doing all of those things we have to do when we are focusing on our career, I wanted to somehow give back to the community,” Pierce says.
She fired up her computer in search of a cause — her cause — and found the Princess Project, based in San Francisco, which provides prom dresses to girls who can’t otherwise afford one.
“They promote individual beauty and confidence in women, and that’s important to me,” Pierce says. “I really took hold of their values and their principles.”
After meeting with the San Francisco board, Pierce got the green light to start a chapter in San Diego. She invited everyone she knew to an open house and before long had 150 volunteers.
“It’s a concept that women can relate to,” says Pierce, who was named a KGTV 10 News Leadership Award recipient in March 2010 for her work with the Princess Project.
“We all have dresses in our closet that we don’t use a second or a third time. And it’s helping young girls. I got an overwhelming response.”
That’s how a coterie of accomplished women began spending their evenings and weekends gathering donations of dresses and accessories, creating partnerships with businesses and fashioning a couture boutique in a commercial space downtown that would exist for only two weekends a year, but for a lifetime in the memories of 150 girls. Teens made appointments and were met by personal shoppers who helped them find the perfect dress and accessory.
Wrapped up in the logistics of ensuring that each girl’s experience was exceptional, Pierce was caught off guard when a parent reached out to thank her.
“She grabbed me and she hugged me. I started to cry because it was really emotional,” Pierce remembers. “She said, ‘I never could have gotten this dress for my daughter. Thank you so much. You have no idea how much this means to me.’”
A stack of round pink and green notes left behind by clients echo similar sentiments, ranging from enthusiastic (“You guys rock!”) to touching (“I’m going to feel beautiful.”).
All this, from an organization that is run 100 percent by volunteers who have careers, families and other responsibilities, yet see a need they can fill.
“It’s not just me doing all of this work,” Pierce points out. “It wouldn’t be so successful without the commitment of everyone else working on this board and donating their time, expertise and creative abilities.”
Pierce also has partnered with several businesses, such as Margaret’s Cleaners, which provides a year-round drop-off and storage site for dresses, and Charlotte Russe and Mary Kay cosmetics, which have donated products. In addition, the boutique space is donated each year. Fundraisers enable Pierce to purchase dresses in sizes that aren’t typically donated, so every girl has a selection to choose from.
For the 2010 event, Princess Project organizers expected to help 500 girls from San Diego area high schools. They hope to eventually turn their hundreds of clients into thousands, while still making that experience unforgettable for each girl.
“This means something to someone’s family, and to a mother and a daughter,” says Pierce, remembering the mom who thanked her so exuberantly that first night. “That moment in which it became real and emotional and personal really struck me. That’s why I want to keep doing this.”
For more information, go to http://princessproject.org.
FEATURE PHOTO BY marshall williams