- Associated Press - Monday, April 6, 2015

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - When she stepped into the shop and spotted the racks of dazzling dresses, Ruby Smith couldn’t help herself.

“I feel like a Kardashian!”

But there are no Hollywood celebrities here today. Ruby and Michaela McCulley are at RaeLynn’s Boutique in Greenwood, each shopping for a prom dress, shoes and earrings. Lucky for them, they won’t spend a dime. They will be outfitted from head to toe in new designer dresses, straight from New York runways.

And that’s not all. Other businesses will donate hair styling, makeup, nails, limo, dinner and prom tickets - a dream package for the two teens and their dates.

If there is a fairy godmother in this Cinderella story, it might be Alison McDaniel, owner of RaeLynn’s, 455 Greenwood Park South Drive. She is donating the dresses, the shoes and the jewelry, as well as the tuxedos for the girls’ dates.

Or it might be Duchess Adjei, who is coordinating the Ultimate Prom Experience for the third year and helped select the winners of this year’s contest from about 200 applicants.

The Ultimate Prom Experience rewards two Broad Ripple High School students for their scholarship and community involvement, while taking into account personal circumstances, particularly financial hardship, The Indianapolis Star reported (https://indy.st/1DEsgPb ).

“It is unbelievably difficult to select just a couple of girls for this prize,” Adjei said.

As McDaniel welcomed the girls and their dates to the shop, she invited them to soak it all in.

“There are over a thousand dresses here, from conservative to risky to red carpet. Whatever you want, nothing is off-limits.”

So instead of looking at price tags, Ruby and Michaela concentrated on color and style. Each tried on at least a half-dozen dresses, twirling in front of the mirror while staff helped with zippers, matched earrings and grabbed shoes for the girls to try on.

It was all a bit much for the teens to absorb. Nothing in this boutique was in their budget.

Ruby, a junior at Broad Ripple, lives with her mother and aunt. “We get by,” she said, “but it doesn’t allow for extravagant things or entertainment. I’m very, very grateful for the Ultimate Prom Experience, because I would not have an opportunity like this.”

Though she serves on the prom committee, even the cost of a ticket for the May 16 event was beyond her reach.

In her essay written for the competition, she talked about financial and health struggles during the cold winter and the helping hand that gave her hope: “Life is like that sometimes, cold and bitter. You feel all alone and just when you think everything is supposed to be that way, someone shows you kindness.”

Difficulties at home have not kept her from achieving at school. She is ranked second in her class and is junior class president. She plays basketball and soccer and, for good measure, plays viola in the school’s orchestra.

Michaela, a senior, lives with her mother and younger brother and acknowledged that attending prom this year was not a priority for her or her family. Paying for rent, heat and electricity were. She knows what it feels like to have the heat turned off in the middle of winter.

She carries a 4.0 GPA and participates in cheerleading and Model United Nations, as well as the school’s Humanities Advisory Council, which gives her perspective in the midst of her financial and family challenges.

In her essay, she talked about that experience: “In HAC we help families who are less fortunate by giving gifts and things they need, and we help by cleaning up the community. I sometimes see my family and me in the faces of the families I help, which is why I find so much joy in being able to provide through the HAC outlet,” she wrote.

“The act of giving without expecting to receive anything has always brought joy to my heart and is something I live by, no matter how hard things are.”

As she tried on dresses before settling on a mermaid-style gown, she couldn’t contain her excitement.

“I feel amazing. I’ve never gotten to experience anything like this. I’m nervous and excited and all these emotions at once.”

Those magical moments are why Adjei continues to pour her efforts into this volunteer program, while also working as manager of marketing and public relations for Special Olympics of Indiana and operating Duch on Demand, her own communications company.

“It’s such a cool way to give back,” she said while watching the girls model their dresses at the shop. But she’d like to do more.

“Currently, I have to limit the number of girls selected for this program, and it’s truly heart-wrenching because each young lady has a compelling story to share.”

McDaniel continues to be involved for the third year, she said, because she feels privileged to have had opportunities in life and to be doing the two things she loves most - raising her children and running her own business. “I need to give back to this community,” she said.

“These are outstanding girls, good students, making great decisions. They’re involved in the community and they’re going to go to college and make a difference in this world.”

___

Information from: The Indianapolis Star, https://www.indystar.com

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