Common Ground: Cinderella Project gives dresses and dreams

Editor’s note: “Common Ground” will move to Wed-nesdays effective Aug. 21.

In a couple of days, Taylor Soape, 18, will join hundreds of other graduating seniors who will leave the comforts of home and move into college dormitories this month.

For Soape, a Holden High School graduate, the move is particularly life-changing.

“I’m the first in my family to graduate from high school and attend college,” she said.

Soape’s dream was fueled by her own passion to study animal anatomy, her family’s encouragement and by two women who offered her college advice, a scholarship and a prom dress.

Co-founders of the Cinderella Project and the Cinderella Project Leadership Academy, Sara Dupree and Shelton Jones, met Soape last fall and offered to provide her and other girls with the tools to increase their confidence and to pursue their educational dreams.

In 2008, Dupree and Shelton began their endeavors by first figuring out a way to make under-served girls’ prom dreams come true.

They publicized their project and invited me and other reporters to cover a story about the Cinderella Project’s inaugural, one-day charitable event featuring 700 prom dresses.

About 400 area girls walked away with boutique-style, free prom dresses. Their endeavors helped shed light on the importance of empowering young girls and providing them with help and support to succeed in school and to feel good about themselves and others.

Soape selected a pink and white princess-style dress at last season’s Cinderella Project giveaway.

“It was exciting and emotional,” she told me.

I also remember feeling the elation of attending my first prom during the late ’80s when hair was big and Prince’s “Purple Reign” dominated dance floors.

Soape’s experience didn’t stop with prom, however. She’d also paid attention in history class where she first learned about the Cinderella Project Leadership Academy, a newly created college prep program for under-served high school girls.

Soape and 34 other young women attended the four-day workshop at LSU where they learned about the college application process and handling and securing financial aid. Each girl won a $500 scholarship.

Soape said she hopes that her college plans can inspire others in her family.

“There’s a lot of responsibility, but it feels great to be a role model to my 10-year-old brother, 13-year-old sister and to my cousins,” she said.

Soape plans to attend Southeastern Louisiana University where she will study biology and eventually pursue work as a veterinarian.

Since its founding, the Cinderella Project has collected more than 15,000 dresses, and 4,300 have been distributed to high school students who attend 84 schools in 18 parishes.

To apply to the Cinderella Project Academy, visit

Chante Dionne Warren is a freelance writer. She can be reached at