LAFAYETTE— The University of Louisiana at Lafayette’s AmeriCorps chapter has taken its town-and-gown relationship to prom in recent years.

As part of the Cinderella Project, stu dent members organize a prom dress drive to stock an annual giveaway to help juniors and seniors find the perfect dress and prom night accessories.

This year, juniors and seniors from Acadiana will have a chance to “shop” the selection of prom dresses, shoes, bags and other accessories during an event scheduled from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. March 9 at the Hilton Garden Inn.

The event is open to any junior and senior, regardless of income. Students must show a valid school identification card, said Vanessa Adamson, assistant director of the UL Lafayette AmeriCorps chapter and director of the Lafayette Cinderella Project.

Raising Cane’s is a project sponsor and its locations in Lafayette, Broussard, New Iberia and Opelousas are drop-off locations for dresses, Adamson said.

Meanwhile, volunteers are needed for the event and donations of dry-cleaned dresses — in any length — and accessories from shoes to purses will be accepted through Feb. 22.

In the first week of collections, about 50 dresses have been dropped off by donors, but the drive received a special donation a few weeks ago, Adamson said.

“We were very fortunate this year. It’s bittersweet because when Antoinette’s Formals went out of business, they contacted us on their last day and donated over 150 brand new dresses,” Adamson said.

Dresses left over from last year’s drive are also part of this year’s picks, she added.

Last year, about 1,200 dresses were donated and about 200 teens picked their prom dresses at the Lafayette event, she said.

Since 2008, the event has grown annually and in 2011, it became a chapter of The Cinderella Project, a Baton Rouge-based nonprofit organization with the same mission to help economically disadvantaged teens with prom expenses. Founded by Shelton Jones and Sarah Dupree in 2008, the group now has chapters in Lafayette, Shreveport and Monroe.

“We started with helping one school in Baton Rouge and we collected so many, it went citywide,” Dupree said.

The effort quickly grew to include multiple parishes and now it’s a statewide event open to any junior or senior with a valid school identification.

The Baton Rouge event is also scheduled March 9 at the Louisiana State Police headquarters. The State Police is a new Cinderella Project partner and its support has bolstered the Cinderella Project’s newest endeavor — the Leadership Academy, Dupree said.

Last fall, the organization launched the academy — a three-day college preparatory workshop that brings teen girls to the LSU campus where they can explore their study options and receive information about college life from financial aid to housing. State Police also taught the teens a self-defense class and served as mentors, Dupree said. The teens also receive a $500 scholarship accepted at any Louisiana college or university for their participation in the program.

Applications for the upcoming fall leadership academy soon will be available, she said.

Dupree said the leadership academy fulfills the group’s goal of adding an educational component to their outreach.

The organization’s motto is: “Education is the dress that always fits,” Dupree said.“We’d rather them to save their money for college. You could buy books for a semester for what you’d pay for a prom dress.”

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