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As the school year nears its end, high school students are starting to plan for prom season. For girls who are homeless, in the foster care system or otherwise at risk as identified by their school, prom planning can seem like a Cinderella fantasy. March 15, 2014, the Baltimore-based Priceless Gown Project returned to Prince George’s County for the fifth year in a row to provide stylish, well-fitted prom gowns for free.

Approximately 150 students, often with sisters, mothers and others on hand to provide fashion advice, gathered at Jericho City of Praise Church in Landover, Md., to try on new and gently used gowns donated by area formalwear stores and individuals. This year’s turn-out was much smaller than the 2013 event, making wait times shorter and selection more generous. Though last year’s prom-goers mainly were students from Frederick Douglas High School, Lester said that this year students came from many schools in the county.

While waiting for their 20-minute shopping slot, girls enjoyed a performance by Baltimore-based, inspirational rapper Lil Key, a fitness class, raffles, a comedy performance and a view into the world of beauty contests provided by Miss Black Maryland USA DeJanee Fennell.

Though choosing an elegant gown for a special event can feel stressful for girls who have little experience with formalwear before prom, Fennell reminded attendees that the clothes they wear are just part of the fun, even during a pageant competition.

“I pick what’s trendy, what Miss USA and Miss Universe are wearing, and what will go well with my skin and my hairstyle,” said Fennell. “It’s all how I’m feeling, my mood and the color I want to wear.”

Volunteers helped the girls find gowns that fit and flatter, as well as accessories like jewelry and shoes to complete their look. Then, the Glam Gurus took over, providing makeup tutorials and full makeup kits to take home.

The ladies of Jericho City of Praise also provided etiquette lessons for girls on how to enter or exit a limousine gracefully, how to navigate a formal place setting at dinner and how to set the tone of the evening with their date.

“They are queens. They are in their gowns and it’s an elegant evening for them,” said Elder Linda. “You’ve got to help train the guys.”

The Priceless Gown Project collects new and gently used gowns and accessories form businesses and individuals throughout the year. Each season, staffers evaluate the gowns on hand to cull dresses that are out of style, said Vice President Catonya Lester. Gowns in sizes 18-24 are especially in demand. For information, visit www.pricelessgownproject.org.