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February 12, 2001

*Contact information contained in this story for the Cinderella Project is no longer current
(as of Jan. 2004) and no further information is known about Atlanta's Cinderella Project.
Please visit for information on other similar projects
where you can donate or go for prom dresses.


'Cinderella Project' helps make
prom memories

By Stephanie Sonnenfeld

Prom season may still be a few months away, but Heather Kotler and Christa Purnell are already knee-deep in taffeta and tulle.

Kotler, a health educator, and Purnell, a nurse practitioner—both of the Adolescent Primary Care and Prevention Clinic at Hughes Spalding Children’s Hospital (an affiliate of Grady Hospital)—are the catalysts behind Cinderella Project Atlanta, a clothing drive that will provide underprivileged girls with free prom dresses.

Inspired by similar projects in Chicago and Palm Harbor, Fla., the drive will make available “gently used” prom dresses collected from various groups in the Atlanta-area to the clinic’s patients and area high school students.

Purnell first had the idea for the drive after seeing a segment on The Oprah Show about the Glass Slipper Project in Chicago, which has provided 1,800 free prom dresses to girls age 16 to 17. The idea for such a project in Atlanta didn’t hit home until Purnell was faced with a perfectly good bridesmaid dress that she wore just once and had no plans to wear again.

“I spent a lot of money on a bridesmaid’s dress and thought that it was really pretty and prom-wearable,” she said. “Then I started thinking about all of the people who have dresses hanging in their closets that they’ll never wear again but that somebody else might be able to use.”
Hence the birth of the Cinderella Project.

Purnell and Kotler are just two of the 15 or so people who help run the Adolescent Primary Care and Prevention Clinic. The clinic serves inner-city, low-income teenagers, many of whom are on Medicaid and/or Peach Care programs. About 90 percent of the clinic’s patients are girls, many of whom come from unstable home environments.

The clinic is open Mondays and Thursdays from 1–6 p.m. and accepts walk-in patients with every malady from the sniffles to sexually transmitted diseases. The clinic also offers employment services, referrals to drug rehabilitation and GED programs, family and individual counseling, relationship and girls’ support groups, and a sexual assault program.

“We deal with the intimate details of their lives, so we find out a lot,” Kotler said. “We all work together as a team—with the social work, psychology, health education, medical care—so we find out what they need in every aspect of their lives.”

And like many teenage girls, the patients Kotler and Purnell work with want to go to prom but can’t afford to buy a dress. The Cinderella Project hopes to solve that problem.

Once the dresses are collected, “shopping days,” when the girls can come and browse the selections, will be Saturday, March 17, and Saturday, March 24, from noon to 4 p.m. in the Steiner Building Auditorium at 68 Armstrong St., across from Grady Hospital.

Since the project began in November, 70 dresses have been donated, many of which haven taken up residency in Kotler’s office. The goal is to collect 350 dresses and Kotler thinks meeting and exceeding that number won’t be impossible, judging on how quickly promotion of the project has grown through impromptu e-mails.

“The word just spread like wildfire. We sent out e-mails to friends, and then they sent out
e-mails to their friends, who sent them out to their friends. The whole six degrees of separation thing really took over,” Kotler said.

Kotler and Purnell have been working with various organizations across the city that are running their own internal dress drives to donate to the Cinderella Project. Both Kotler and Purnell both received their master’s of public health degrees from Emory, and Purnell received her master’s of science from the School of Nursing. The two used their ties to the Emory community as a springboard for the Cinderella Project.

Dropoff boxes for dresses have been placed in the public health, law and nursing schools and in the Dobbs Center. Other area schools such as Georgia State University and Spelman College also have begun collecting dresses, in addition to collection through local churches, synagogues, private high schools and businesses.

And donations haven’t just come in dress form—Fantastic Sam’s salon has offered to donate vouchers for hairstyling for the prom-goers, while other donations have come in the form of purses, jewelry, shoes, makeup and money.

Donations will be accepted through the first week of March. People also may mail dresses to: Cinderella Project Atlanta, Dept. of Pediatrics, 69 Butler St., Atlanta, GA, 30303. Those wishing to drop off dresses may do so at Grady Hospital, Dept. of Pediatrics, 68 Armstrong St.

For more information, contact Kotler at 404-616-4640 or Purnell at 404-616-4560.


Back to Emory Report Feb. 12, 2001