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Ronda's Closet offers girls prom gowns for free

Craig Cunningham
Sissonville High School students model some prom gowns that will be in an upcoming fashion show at the school. The gowns are from Ronda's Closet, a spot where girls can get prom gowns for free with no questions asked. From left are Megan Weekley, Erica Hackney, Shelby Sisson, Kaityln Weekley, Alyssa Rice, Lindsey Goff and Jenna Curry.
File photo
Ronda's Closet was opened during the prom season of 2006 in memory of Ronda Jones Howard, a model from Charleston, who died of breast cancer in 2004 at the age of 44.
It is not too soon to begin preparing for the prom.   But this usually expensive feat can be accomplished on a shoestring budget. One way is to visit Ronda's Closet, housed at Aldersgate United Methodist Church near Sissonville. Ronda's Closet is a place where girls can "shop" for free. "Last year we dressed 50 to 60 girls," said organizer Julia Black.Girls from Kanawha, Braxton and Boone counties chose prom gowns last year. There is no charge for any dress and no questions are asked, though Black said she noticed shoppers did not seem concerned about confidentiality."There was such a need that people just didn't care," she said. "The money was just not out there."Because the economy remains a problem for many girls in need of gowns, Black wants to get the word out about Ronda's Closet.Sissonville High School teacher Brenda Walker-Bowen is happy to help. She works with students every year to hold a prom fashion show."I have been doing a prom show for seven or eight years," she said. "I like to make students aware of what is in fashion so they can dress appropriately. I also like to work with students and let them be aware of how to present themselves on stage. It's a fun time."The 2011 Prom Show Extravaganza at Sissonville High School is set for 1 p.m. Feb. 11 in the school auditorium with 50 seniors modeling attire. The event is open to the public. Admission is $2 with the proceeds going to the school's prom fund.A good portion of the gowns being modeled this year will be from Ronda's Closet. 
"Many kids can't afford prom dresses," Walker-Bowen said. "I thought it would be good to showcase Ronda's Closet dresses."    Ronda's Closet collects new and gently used gowns. Girls are asked to return them after the prom, but sometimes that doesn't happen. Also, gowns eventually become worn, so Black this year is seeking more donations so she can replenish her supplies.Black said she really wants to have a good selection available in a variety of sizes.Ronda's Closet opened during the prom season of 2006 in memory of Ronda Jones Howard of Charleston, who died of breast cancer in 2004 at the age of 44. She was a model who was beautiful inside and out, said Black, who was a close friend.Just days before her death, Howard sent a beautiful gown to Black just because she wanted her to have it. Black looked at the dress and thought about a place in Florida where girls in that area could get free gowns. She decided to begin a similar program in memory of her friend.The program has remained possible through the generosity of many who have donated new or gently used dresses. Nandel's in Eleanor donated 20 new dresses this year. Gardner's provides dry cleaning and storage as needed to keep the project going. Rick and Cathy Leach, owners of four Gardner's locations, keep the gowns stored on three long racks.
"We wait until a young lady picks out a gown and then clean it if needed," Cathy Leach said. "With the variety that has been donated, just about anybody can find something they like."Ronda's Closet will open for the first time this year from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. Feb. 19 and will be open during those hours every Saturday throughout prom season at Aldersgate United Methodist Church, which is located on W.Va. 21 north of Sissonville High School.For more information about shopping or donating dresses, call Julia Black at 304-389-4604.Contact writer Charlotte Ferrell Smith at or 304-348-1246.
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