Fairy Godmothers

'Fairy Godmothers' has granted prom wishes for 10 years

Arlene Hisiger  

This year, 140 volunteers, 25 seamstresses and 15 seamstress assistants, will help some 300 to 400 girls find just the right dress and accessories at the Fairy Godmothers of Rochester prom fair April 5.


(Photo: Staff file photo)

Did the movie, The Wizard of Oz, fill you with dreams of a personal fairy godmother?

For the past 10 years, some 4,000 local girls have had that dream come true, in a very specific way.

In 2004, Renee Spallina, wishing to give back to the community and to be a role model for her young daughter, helped found Fairy Godmothers of Greater Rochester.

Fairy Godmothers collects donated gently-used prom dresses for girls who may not be able to afford their own. In addition, they fundraise to purchase new prom dresses, jewelry and handbags as well as Payless Shoes gift cards.

Each year, at an annual spring prom fair, applicants (usually referred by a school principal, teacher, or guidance counselor), are gifted with these dresses and "all the trimmings." 

"They say the school prom is a rite of passage," says Spallina, "but it's really about self-esteem. While the girls focus on the dress, we focus on self-esteem, confidence and beauty from within."

Xena Almonte, a senior at Eastridge High School, attended the Fairy Godmothers Prom Fair last year. She was able to select a dress and earrings and received a Payless gift card and makeup samples, for which she made a donation of $7 to the organization.

"I felt really, really good about the experience of attending," she said. "It was very organized. They kept everything upbeat."


Maura Axelrod, left and Renee Spallina, right, pose with the first girl in line for the 2013 Fairy Godmothers prom fair. Each year the women, who are the organizers of the event, get their photo taken with the first girl in line.(Photo: Provided by Renee Spallina)

Spallina founded the organization with Cynthia Jackson, who later moved away from Rochester. With the departure of Jackson, Spallina wondered if she could shoulder the many responsibilities on her own. Barbra Vassalo, who had been with the organization from the start, and Mara Axelrod, who could not bear the thought of the organization's demise, both stepped up to the plate and assumed greater roles in the organization. The three women now spearhead the organization while also holding down full-time jobs.

The first prom fair, serving 75 girls, was held in the basement of a church in Victor. For the past several years, the fair has been held at the Rochester Convention Center. "Joe Floreano, the convention center's executive director, has been wonderful to us," Spallina gratefully says. "Without him we wouldn't be able to accommodate the number of fair attendees that we do." This year, 140 volunteers, 25 seamstresses and 15 seamstress assistants, will help some 300 to 400 girls find just the right look.

At times, people vaguely familiar with the endeavor have asked Spallina, "Don't you do that cute little (prom fair) thing?" But it is so much more than that. "We really do make a difference," Spallina affirms. "Girls who start out shy and unsure of themselves are beaming by the time the fair is over."

Almonte, who heard about the event through an announcement at her school, plans to attend again this year. "Prom is expensive," she said. "I am paying $50 for prom tickets and $60 for a limo. It makes no sense to spend extra money on a dress for one day."

She added that the prom fair makes it possible for parents who are on a tight budget to give their daughters the special treatment that comes with prom. Many girls attend the fair with a parent or family member who can share in the special moment.

But to get to that point takes logistic-laden, labor-intensive planning: from taking care that each girl is greeted by name when a volunteer, who will serve as her personal shopper, first greets her, to assuring that these volunteers will also serve as role models to the attendees as they provide support and assistance through the entire process of dress and accessory selection, fitting and tailoring.

"When the girl leaves (the fair), she's good to go," says Spallina, "her dress has been totally altered, steamed and hung in a garment bag." All that remains for the attendee to do is pick up her $10 Payless Shoes gift card and a goodie bag containing prom tips and donated make-up samples on her way out.

Yet the fair is about more than effort expended. At a recent dress collection drive, a girl, holding a dress, approached a volunteer. "I got this dress last year," the girl explained. "I couldn't buy a prom dress because my mom was in the hospital and we got evicted – I was homeless. But my personal shopper was so kind, she told me to never give up, that things would be better. Now, I want to give back," she said, proudly handing her dress to the volunteer.

For more information on the Fairy Godmothers and the prom fair, go to www.fairygodmothersrochester.com.

Contact Arlene at 585-442-6108 or arlene@wordtailor.net 
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