On Saturday, April 6, the Cinderella Project in Belfast opened its doors for the ninth year to the high school girls of Maine. The project, run by Waldo Community Action Partners (WaldoCAP), provides free prom dresses to girls who couldn't afford one otherwise.

Since 2005, the Cinderella Project has given away hundreds of dresses, many of which have been donated back to the project by the girls who enjoyed them for one special night. It was begun by a pair of Belfast Area High School teachers, and was taken over by WaldoCap in 2009, said Community Projects Manager Tabitha Lowe.

She said girls come from Baileyville, Ellsworth, Lincoln, Skowhegan and elsewhere around the state, as well as local communities. She added that those hoping to find the dress of their dreams start lining up three or four hours before the doors open at 9 a.m. Reny's donates space in a vacant storefront to store the dresses, as well as for the day of the dress selection and fitting, Lowe said. In 2012, the project gave dresses to 230 girls, she said. This year, 170 dresses were presented to girls on April 6, and there will be another dress day sometime during April vacation week, she said.

That's a small fraction of the dresses that have been donated over the years. Lowe estimated the project has more than 1,000 dresses. Many are donated secondhand, but some are new, with the tags still on them, said Lowe. A few, she said, are far enough out of fashion to need a bit of alteration by the volunteers who work on the project. Volunteers also staff the storefront on dress day, helping the girls find dresses and try them on. The project also has shoes to go along with the dresses.

The project aims to help girls develop a positive body image and also to encourage community involvement. To that end, no means test is required, but girls who receive dresses are asked to repay the favor by some kind of community service.

This year, girls were invited to enter an essay contest to win a prom package, including first pick of the dresses, an updo, makeup, manicure, a spray tan and dinner for two. The essay was to be about a challenge they had faced. The winner was Mariah Ross, a junior at Mount View High School.

To get involved in the Cinderella Project, or for more information, contact Lowe at 338-6809.