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Community Engagement

Cinderella Project: UAlbany Students, Staff Help Albany High Students' Prom Dreams Come True

ALBANY, N.Y. (May 14, 2013) -- Through her volunteer efforts, University at Albany senior Chantelle Wilkinson wants to inspire young women to not only attend college, but to get involved. Wilkinson, who took part in UAlbany's 169th Commencement on May 19, understands the benefits of community engagement, as she was the recipient of others’ help and enthusiasm when she was preparing for her prom.

As a high school student in Brooklyn, N.Y., Wilkinson and her best friend took the advice of their guidance counselor and attended a local ‘Cinderella Project’ event to look for prom attire. The Cinderella Project provides underprivileged young women with free dresses, shoes and accessories for their prom or graduation night.

"I remember there were so many dresses and shoes available. The hosts were so helpful and enthusiastic," said Wilkinson, a political science major with minors in Spanish and Latin American and Caribbean Studies.

Started in 1999 by Disney executive Dana Green, the program strives to reward young girls for accomplishments such as staying in school, and reinforce that they pursue their goals. The ultimate hope is that the beneficiaries will in turn support their own communities in some way.

When Wilkinson discovered UAlbany was hosting a Cinderella Project event for Albany High School students, she leapt at the opportunity to give back. "I believe one experience can be life changing," said Wilkinson. "The girls visiting the University may not only be inspired to go to college, but also to participate in community engagement efforts such as the Cinderella Project."

UAlbany's version of the Cinderella Project came together through the collaborative efforts of the Leaders in Service student organization, Residence Hall Director Mary McCarthy, and University in the High School Associate Director Deb Privott. Senior Gabie Kamaker of Long Beach, N.Y. a community service assistant with Residential Life, served as project coordinator.

"We wanted to create an atmosphere where the participants felt comfortable," said Kamaker, who encouraged her fellow volunteers to talk to the young students about how UAlbany has made a difference in their lives. Kamaker, a business administration major who minors in mathematics and Judaic studies, also noted the sustainable aspects of the program; the dresses collected and redistributed have the opportunity to provide a ‘dream come true’ moment for someone else, rather than collecting dust in a closet.

Wilkinson is now preparing for the next phase in her life, which includes plans to attend law school, either in Chicago or California.

While at UAlbany, Wilkinson took advantage of many opportunities provided through the University: she interned at the NYS Assembly, served as a member of the Rockefeller College Dean's Leadership Council, and was a residential assistant. Yet she is equally excited to share her enthusiasm for volunteering in the community, through programs such as the Cinderella Project.

In Brooklyn, Wilkinson enjoyed the experience immensely, even if she almost left without finding 'the perfect' dress. Just before leaving, she and her friends passed by some designer dresses. "One of the girls helping us asked if I wanted to try one on and I did. I fell in love with it." As it turned out, the dress was a one-of-kind Oscar de la Renta.

Wilkinson's amazing experience with the Cinderella Project is what led her to immediately volunteer when she heard that UAlbany was putting together an event. "The set up was so beautiful and the reactions of the girls who found dresses they loved were priceless," said Wilkinson.