The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

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February 23, 2014

Operation Fairy Godmother helps students get ready for prom

JOPLIN, Mo. — Cayley Hardison tried on about 15 prom dresses Friday evening before finally finding a red, one-shoulder gown that she knew immediately was “the one.”

“It felt pretty, so I tried it on,” said Hardison, a senior at Joplin High School. “It just kind of clicked.”

Hardison is getting a helping hand this year in finding the right attire for her spring prom through Operation Fairy Godmother, a program that offers prom wear and accessories at little or no cost to hundreds of local students.

The program was launched 12 years ago by Debbie Leatherman, a special services teacher at Joplin High School who collected a few prom dresses for students who needed them. Its inventory now includes more than 10,000 pieces of clothing and accessories, she said.

For up to $25, students can pick up whatever they need for prom from the Fairy Godmother “closet,” which this year can be found on the fourth floor of the Commerce Bank Executive Center in downtown Joplin. Girls have their choice of a dress plus accessories, such as shoes, jewelry and a purse. Boys get a full tux, including a tie, vest, dress shirt and shoes.

Hardison, who will attend Joplin’s prom on April 26, said this marked her first time at Operation Fairy Godmother.

“I think it’s a really wonderful opportunity for people who can’t afford to buy a retail dress,” she said. “I know I can’t.”

Cheyenne Branum, a senior at East Newton High School, left the Fairy Godmother closet on Friday with a sparkly blue gown. In addition to having felt a Cinderella vibe when she tried it on, she said she selected the dress because of its color.

“I just had a baby boy, and I thought blue looked cute,” she said. “It just brings out who I am.”

Branum said she planned to also pick up shoes, makeup and jewelry to complete her prom look.

“It’s awesome,” she said of the program. “It helps girls out to find the right dress instead of going online or to other places where they cost way too much.”

McKenzie Owens, a junior at East Newton High School, clutched a poofy red dress with sparkles on the bodice, although she wasn’t sure at the moment that it was her final selection. Not only was it her first time at Operation Fairy Godmother, but she also will attend prom for the first time on April 12.

“I’m looking forward to prom — dancing, spending time with my friends,” she said. “It’s my first year, so I think it will be exciting.”

Owens said she appreciated the assistance from Operation Fairy Godmother in helping her get ready for the big night.

“It’s a good opportunity, especially for a lot of people who can’t afford to pay $200 for a dress,” she said. “Coming here makes it easier to go to prom.”

The program in previous years was reserved primarily for students who demonstrated financial need or who were referred by teachers. It has since been opened to all female juniors and seniors, regardless of need, and — because the boys’ inventory is smaller — male students only from Joplin and Carl Junction.

The Fairy Godmother closet is open to students — by appointment only — on Friday nights through early April. Leatherman said she expects to serve 350 girls and 100 to 150 boys this year.

More information

TO VOLUNTEER WITH or donate items to Operation Fairy Godmother, people may contact Debbie Leatherman at The program’s website is also linked through

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