JOPLIN — Sabrina Rogers emerged from the dressing room in a slinky teal dress.
"I feel elegant," the Joplin High School senior said, bobbing her head to the music that was coming from the disc jockey's booth. "I'm ready to get out on the dance floor and party."
Rogers was among almost 500 high school students from Joplin and Carl Junction who were invited on a recent Saturday to Operation Fairy Godmother, a project that makes prom accessible and affordable. It was held this year at First United Methodist Church in Joplin.
Sue Utter, counselor at Carl Junction High School, said at least 1,100 dresses were available for girls at $5 each. Boys either chose a tuxedo at the event or bought a $10 coupon for tuxedo rental at participating businesses, she said.
Other accessories also were available at little to no cost.
Debbie Leatherman, of Joplin High School, started Operation Fairy Godmother years ago and continues to watch it grow. She said the event is not only close to her heart, but it is also important to the students who attend looking for prom wear.
"This is their time to shine," she said. "This is their time to say, 'I am beautiful, I am loved and I am needed.'"
Louise Faulkner, of Joplin, said she was "thrilled" when she saw her daughters, Joplin High School students Ashley and Tiffany, modeling prom dresses.
"I should have known better," she said after both daughters chose a pink dress. "They've always got the same thing."
Faulkner said the event was a "fantastic" way for students to get the attire and accessories they need to go to prom, particularly in an economy that has taken a toll on many households.
"There's no words to describe this," she said, gesturing toward the gym filled with excited young women and volunteers.
"What these ladies have done, there's no words. We couldn't have wanted anything better."
Tiffany Faulkner ended up with pink shoes, pink jewelry, a silver purse and a white-flowered corsage.
"I wanted a poofy dress, and I liked that one the best out of the three that I picked," she said. "I just like (poofy dresses). It's more fitting of prom."
Chris Neff, one of the prom fair's personal shoppers for students, said she thought Operation Fairy Godmother was a great opportunity for students who might not have been able to afford prom otherwise.
Neff, of Carl Junction, said she was having as much fun Saturday as many of the high school girls were having.
"I don't have any daughters," she said. "I've never gotten to do this before. This is wonderful. It's every mother's dream."
Rogers said she attended Operation Fairy Godmother last year and chose a hot pink dress. This year, she went with the teal dress for several reasons.
"I like the decorations and how the back twists," she said, first pointing to the elaborate diamond beading down the front of the dress and then turning to model the unique back of the dress. "And the color — I think it stands out."
Before she left, Rogers also picked out silver shoes that she said were "comfy" and dangly silver and pearl earrings. With the DJ playing in the background, she was still dancing.
About 400 Joplin students and 75 Carl Junction students were invited to Operation Fairy Godmother, which was staffed by 125 volunteers.