By Jano Tantongco
Last spring, as high school students prepared for their proms, South Huntington School District Deputy Superintendent Jacqueline Harris asked Laci Wright to accompany a Half Hollow Hills student to Hempstead so that the student could pick out a prom dress from a giveaway intended to benefit needy kids.
After going with the student, Wright, a graduate of the leadership training program Parent Leadership Initiative, said she came to believe local residents should not have to travel that far for assistance.
Using her background with the PLI, which is sponsored by Child Care Council of Suffolk, Wright created Operation Cinderella, a program that collects prom dresses for teens who otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford them. Since starting the project last month, Wright has collected about 75 dresses and is aiming to reach 100 dress as her next milestone before a dress giveaway and makeover day that’s slated for 12-4 p.m. April 2 at Walt Whitman High School.
“The more dresses and accessories I can get, the more I can help,” said Wright, 50, a longtime Huntington Station resident. “I think that right now a lot of people are struggling. Prom is very expensive. The tickets are $200-$300.”
Wright’s son, Kiandre, graduated from Walt Whitman in 2014. With that, Wright said she’s seen firsthand the work required by students in order to complete their high school education, and “they should be able to enjoy prom, and cost shouldn't be a factor.
“I love those kids, and I want them to have a good time. I want them to make memories.”
Wright said that she currently has no criteria for who is eligible to pick out a dress.
“I’m assuming whoever comes wants a dress and needs a dress. So, I’m not going to look into it any further than that,” said Wright, a retired NYPD officer who worked in Jamaica, Queens.
To help run the project, Wright has enlisted the help of Solange Rich, a South Huntington PTA member. Rich said she was once unable to afford a prom dress.
But, Rich added, Wright’s project “extends beyond the people who can't afford dresses. It goes to people who have to decide between a princess-night to paying the electric bill, or being able to go food shopping.”
Rich said she has three children of her own enrolled in the school district. She hopes that Wright’s program will become an annual, self-sustaining event that expands throughout the region.
“I think we're going to do well enough to help girls in our area and possibly the neighboring areas as well,” Rich said.
Danielle Asher, director of PLI, said the program sets out to give parents the tools, training and network necessary to grow their skills in creating meaningful programs that bind the community together. Asher said the program can benefit from projects that can be made into a “movement,” something like Laci’s project.
“What’s beautiful about it is that it can be duplicated.”
Anyone interested in donating formalwear of all kinds may get in touch with Wright by emailing her at ImTheFairyGodparent@Gmail.com. Wright said she hopes that donors feel like they are “fairy godparents,” when helping those in need.