It started with a simple Facebook post.

Serving as a reminder of a magical night back in high school but no longer serving a practical purpose, Ethan resident Wendy Royston posted in the Mitchell Trash and Treasure Facebook group asking where she could donate formal prom dresses.

It was there, an idea was sparked.

In 2011, Jolene Kayser, an Alexandria resident, saw the post and then began talking with coworkers who had entertained similar ideas about finding a good use for used prom dresses.

The Glass Slipper project was then born. The project is a volunteer organization designed to provide high school girls an opportunity to acquire prom dresses they may otherwise be unable to afford.

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The organization — whose motto is “making every Cinderella a princess in time for prom” — is planning their 10th event at the Mitchell Wesleyan Church. This year’s event will be held Friday, Feb. 19 from 4 to 8 p.m. and Saturday, Feb. 20 from 9 a.m. to noon.

Over the years, Kayser said the board members have been able to streamline the process, making it a lot easier compared to Year One, especially thanks to the donation of a storage room at Mitchell Wesleyan Church.

Originally, The Glass Slipper alternated sites each year between Mitchell Wesleyan Church and Downtown Mitchell First United Methodist Church and storing the dresses in a space donated in Parkston.

“It used to be that we stored dresses in our personal basements. Or we do the event here and pack them all in our vans and take them over to Parkston and haul them up one or two flights of stairs into a storage room in the hotel,” said Kayser, one of the group's founders and current board president.

Since Mitchell Wesleyan Church graciously donated the space, the group has kept the event at Mitchell Wesleyan.

“We are so incredibly fortunate to have this church here and their support,” Kayser said. “They give us (a storage) area downstairs that we can't go past. We just make sure that all the dresses and stuff we need to use goes in that corner.”

Jolene Kayser shows jewelry that's been donated to The Glass Slipper. (Matt Gade / Republic)
Jolene Kayser shows jewelry that's been donated to The Glass Slipper. (Matt Gade / Republic)

Over the past nine years, Kayser said she estimates The Glass Slipper has given out approximately 550 dresses to girls across the region. While they don’t promise every girl gets a dress, they do their best to accommodate the girls who do show up.

“They pretty much always usually get and find a dress. At least 80 to 90 percent,” Kayser said.

The group — which runs entirely off donated prom dresses, shoes and accessories — also has had the support of many local businesses who over the years have also graciously donated items such as hair care, tanning minutes, flowers, makeup and other drawings to help the organization and girls planning on attending their proms.

Original organizers of the group included; Kayser, Royston, Erin Geuke, Cindy Krall and Colleen Mette, with Royston and Kayser still serving on the board along with fellow current board members Alyssa Herman, Kendra Klumb and Aimee Nebelsick. The group became a non-profit organization to allow businesses that make donations to be able to write them off.

Royston said the group added Herman and Klumb in recent years to have younger women who have modern experiences with how high school girls approach prom.

“We decided, having somebody who wasn't too far removed from high school and prom would be beneficial to us to make sure that our perspective isn't skewed because we're older,” said Royston, an original board member and current secretary/treasurer.

“I don't know if it's necessarily a younger perspective, but sometimes I think maybe it's just fresh ideas,” Klumb said. “Somebody who's just recently been at prom, went to seven of them myself, so I know a little something about it.”

Klumb volunteered to help the group before becoming a board member in 2019 after she took advantage of the dresses to go to prom in 2017.

“I was a freshman in college and one of my friends, he had a little misfortune before prom and his date left him, so he asked me if I'd come back and be his prom date,” she said. “Being a freshman in college, I just couldn't quite see spending $300 or $400 for a dress. And to try to find one that quick, was just not working well for me.

"Somebody had told me, ‘Hey, you know, let's go check out The Glass Slipper. You know, that's free. You can take a dress, and then you can just donate it back,’" Klumb recalled. "I'm like, ‘Oh, that'd be perfect.’ I mean, that's truly all I need.”

Jolene Kayser, President of The Glass Slipper, pulls out a prom dress that had been donated in the last year to be given out during the annual event. (Matt Gade / Republic)
Jolene Kayser, President of The Glass Slipper, pulls out a prom dress that had been donated in the last year to be given out during the annual event. (Matt Gade / Republic)

Excitement builds around prom

Kayser said they’ve even had some people just buy dresses to donate to The Glass Slipper to show their appreciation for the organization. While the organization typically receives donated prom dresses around prom, they do accept year-round donations at the Mitchell Wesleyan Church.

“Most of our donations come around prom season, you know, but we do take them year-round. We just try to get that word out there when they're going through their closets and stuff, but a lot of people just think about it once it gets closer to prom,” Kayser said.

Due to the impact of COVID-19 in 2020, schools across the state were forced to shut down and cancel their high school proms. Because there were no proms, retail stores didn’t sell as many prom dresses as they typically would.

Over the summer, Macy’s department store in Sioux Falls donated over 200 prom dresses to The Glass Slipper. In addition to the donated dresses from Macy’s, the Lincoln Hills Bible Church in Sioux Falls discontinued their annual Operation Prom Dress, an event similar to The Glass Slipper, after 14 years and donated nearly 100 dresses to the Mitchell-based group.

“Every year, we go through dresses. And we know the ones that have been here for years that we don't think that have been picked. We donate them to either Our Home, Abbott House or the Goodwill,” Kayser said.

Also because of COVID-19, The Glass Slipper recognizes that last year was rough for many families for whom financial hardship hasn't before been a concern. As a result, they anticipate seeing new faces and possibly more “Cinderellas” than ever, as they call their participants.

Because the group is run entirely by volunteers, Kayser said the best way for people to reach the group is through its Facebook page. Each high school girl who attends works with a volunteer personal shopper to help make the experience run smoothly.

With COVID-19, in addition to more regular cleaning, the group is working to make things more accommodating to people looking to attend by spacing out inside the fellowship hall, along with letting people wait in their cars and receive a text message five minutes ahead of their turn to shop.

Currently, the plan is for 10 dressing rooms in the basement of the church in addition to a room filled with racks of dresses and another with tables of shoes and accessories. This year, two rooms are being designated for pre-set, 30-minute appointments. One of these rooms will be for a single, while the other will be a double room for two to shop together along with two personal shoppers.

The appointments are set up to allow the staff to keep track of the dresses and also to make sure the girls have privacy when they are trying the dresses on.

The group is still looking for volunteers to help with personal shoppers, registration table attendants, snack attendants, sanitation fairies, setup and cleanup crews this year. All volunteers must be 18 years old or older and out of high school.

As The Glass Slipper is always happy to take donations of prom dresses, Kayser said they’re particularly interested in dress sizes 18 and up. The members of the board say they recognize that for many, attending prom can be much more than just the girl’s junior and senior years and for parents with multiple girls, the costs of dresses can really add up.

“Talking with the girls and getting to hear some of their stories, just the excitement that comes with prom. Don't get me wrong, there's lots of other exciting things in high school,” Klumb said. “But for most girls, this is kind of a really exciting thing for them, to be able to go and just have a night where you get dressed up and you're with your friends. It's just — it's all fun.”