Ronda’s Closet will open its doors for a 14th year on Sunday, providing free prom dresses for girls to ensure they can make the most of the high school tradition.

Housed in Aldersgate United Methodist Church, just north of Sissonville High School on Route 21, Ronda’s Closet will be open from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. every Sunday of prom season.

Annually, the program provides dresses to about 200 girls at no charge and with no questions asked, said Julia Black, who has run the program since founding it with her daughter in 2006.

“We feel like it’s such a big expense, but it’s something that every girl has a right to,” Black said. “It’s your right to go to prom, to dress up and feel good about yourself. It really is a right of passage.”

This year is especially exciting, Black said, as Ronda’s Closet was donated 100 brand new dresses from Promgirl.com. Many of the dresses donated are plus-size, by request of Black, since there have been limited options for girls in past years.

“They were looking for a place to donate to, and they researched West Virginia and loved our program,” Black said. “No one else here had this type of service, so they selected us and we thought that was wonderful.”

The new dresses from Promgirl.com come in addition to the hundreds of other dresses donated by Nandel’s Bridal and Prom, located in Eleanor, throughout the years.

After girls find a dress, they sign it out and are expected to return it after prom season, and most do, Black said. Today, the closet has grown to more than 400 dresses, which are stored at Gardner’s Drycleaning and Laundry, where they are also dry cleaned before being moved into Aldersgate United Methodist Church.

Black opened Ronda’s Closet with her daughter, Kristin Vess, in 2006, when Vess — then at Sissonville High School — was looking to start a community service project.

They named the program after Ronda Howard, a good friend and “the most beautiful girl in Kanawha County, both inside and out,” Black said. Howard died of breast cancer in 2004, and Black said the closet felt like an appropriate way to honor her.

Over the years, Black said there have been lots of laughs as girls bring their friends, mothers and sometimes fathers to try on and check out dresses.

“When a girl gets her perfect dress and her face, when it lights up — it’s great to watch and to be a part of,” Black said. “It’s fun and it’s so happy. We take pictures; it’s a celebration for them and we’re glad to help.”

Caity Coyne is a corps member with Report for America, an initiative of The GroundTruth Project. Reach Caity Coyne at

caity.coyne@wvgazettemail.com, 304-348-7939 or follow @CaityCoyne on Twitter.