Lainyi Kniffin is a modern-day fairy godmother. The Dominion High School parent volunteer created Prom Dreams last year to make prom night a reality for all students.
"Unfortunately, there are some students who can’t afford all the things that go along with prom," Kniffin said. "We want to make sure everybody gets to go."
Last year, Kniffin got the idea to begin collecting new and used formal dresses from around the county several months before prom season, to alleviate the high cost of prom for a handful of Dominion High School students.
The response from the community was so overwhelming, Kniffin was able to extend the invitation to shop for dresses to Park View and Potomac Falls high-school students.
The Sterling-area students picked out dresses, and even a few accessories, Kniffin collected along the way.
This year Kniffin said she wanted to make Prom Dreams even bigger and better.
So, the wife and mother of two boys began making phone calls to local hair and nail salons, makeup artists, limousine rental services and other local businesses asking for their help with the project.
"I couldn’t have done it without them," she said. "The response was huge."
WITH THE COMMUNITY’S help, Kniffin transformed Dominion High School’s cafeteria into a fashion show. Students posed as models and walked down a tinsel-lined catwalk in "almost new" formal dresses and gowns.
Lauren Cummings, a senior at Dominion High School, modeled a short number she said she would to wear for any formal occasion.
"There are a lot of really great dresses here," she said. "It kind of feels like prom."
Cummings said Prom Dreams’ laid-back atmosphere reminded her about what prom is all about.
"Prom is so stressful, but today’s been so much fun," she said. "Sometimes we get caught up in the hair and the nails and the dress. It’s nice to take a step back, get dressed up and help a few girls find dresses, too."
After the fashion show, Dominion, Park View and Potomac Falls students shopped through racks of designer dresses and sequence gowns, in wide variety of shapes, colors and sizes.
Kniffin attributed the variety of dresses to Caitlin Brunell, daughter of Washington Redskin’s quarterback Mark Brunell.
Caitlin Brunell contacted Kniffin and asked if she could help by donating dresses she collected through her organization, Caitlin’s Closet. The Georgetown Visitation High School freshman collects and distributes formal wear to those in need.
"It’s a real honor for me," Caitlin Brunell said. "I want these girls to feel beautiful in their new dresses."
Caitlin Brunell and Emily Minehart, a Dominion High School senior and recently named Miss Loudoun, handed out gift certificates from local businesses like Hair Port Ltd., Creative Nails and Shopper’s Florist in Sterling.
Qiana Roberts strut down the catwalk in a purple dress Saturday afternoon. The Dominion High School senior said she is trying not to spend too much money during prom season, but said it’s next to impossible.
"Last year, I spent between $300 and $400," she said. "It’s not just the dress. It’s the hair, the makeup, the dinner, the limo."
Parent volunteers turned lunch tables on their sides and transformed cafeteria corners into fitting rooms.
Once the girls found their dresses, two seamstresses who were on hand fit them to their bodies. Before they left, each girl received a certificate for a free dress cleaning from Dry Clean Depot in Sterling.
Kniffin also received donations from local restaurants like That’s Amore, Olive Garden and Ted’s Montana Grill in Sterling, for dinner before the dance.
"I think we covered all the bases," Kniffin said.
KNIFFIN ATTRIBUTED the event’s success to the community’s effort to make prom night an affordable one for all Sterling-area students.
"I am so thankful to all these local places," she said. "They’ve had such a big impact on today."
By the end of the day, girls walked out of the Dominion High School with tailored dresses, gift certificates and makeup tips in hand.
Kniffin walked out of the school with a sigh of relief.
"Everyone’s been so generous," she said. "It’s been a party."