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Beautiful Blessings!

Ministry in Wintersville helps area teens have gowns, special dresses for high school dances

DRESSES GALORE — Theresa Royce, center, founder, and volunteers Cindi Curry, left, and Natalie Koziara help make Beautiful Blessings Gown Ministry in Wintersville a way for area girls to have a special dress for a special dance. -- Janice Kiaski

WINTERSVILLE — Buying a gown or dress for a high school dance can be an expensive proposition for teenagers and their parents, not to mention the shoes, purses, jewelry and shawls to make the outfit complete.

For some, it’s a financial hardship that spells the difference between attending a winter semi-formal, homecoming or prom or not going at all.

But Beautiful Blessings Gown Ministry based in Wintersville offers a wallet-friendly solution.

It helps high school girls “acquire a dress to attend her high school dances because every girl deserves to feel beautiful and have the opportunity to attend,” notes the “about” description on its Facebook page.

The outreach of Crossroads Christian Church was the brainchild of founder Theresa Royce, who attends church there. It operates out of some of the space of what formerly was a Huntington Bank presence on Cadiz Road. The church purchased the building that’s located near the church at 110 Springdale Ave.

“I believe that the Lord gave me a vision in a very, very strong desire to make it a reality,” Royce said in explaining how the ministry took shape about a year and a half ago when a friend asked if anyone had a dress for a young girl who wanted to go to her dance.

Royce fielded the request on her Facebook page, got “a ton of hits,” picked up a ton of dresses and helped the teen in need select a dress before returning the rest.

Then it occurred to her — what if she could get people to donate gowns and special occasion dresses and all the accessories to help other area girls have a free dress of their dreams to wear to their dances?

Figuring out a space to make that happen took Royce no further than her own neighborhood.

“Pastor Jeff Greco is my neighbor, and I simply asked him if he had a room where I could house these dresses. He didn’t hesitate. He said, ‘Yeah, I do!’ and he walked me downstairs to this little room that’s now our home,” Royce said of the bottom level of the former bank building where the church board has recently given the green light to use even more space for the “exploding” outreach.

The ministry operates by appointments, not set hours, with requests for donation drop-offs, “shopping,” fittings and even minor alterations arranged by texting Royce at (740) 381-1055. A donation of at least $5 is appreciated and goes toward cleaning expenses, for example.

“There have been God winks everywhere,” she said of how quickly everything began falling into place.

“Tammy Fouco, a good friend of mine, discussed the name, and started the Facebook page Beautiful Blessings Gown Ministry. From there we just started sharing,” she said, citing an initial project in readying the space involved getting racks to hang the gowns.

“I needed money to start, so I had a craft show in my yard in Belvedere. It was a success. I didn’t know how I would put racks down there, but the good Lord did,” Royce continued. “John Wardel stepped up to the plate and built some racks for me. Little did we know, the weight of the gowns would eventually pull the racks out of the wall. What a mess that was. I didn’t know what to do, but we continued with appointments with literally a pile of gowns on the ground clear up to my chest. John encouraged me, I think he prayed for me, and knew that he was to be a part of this ministry. He has been a right-hand man in this endeavor,” she said.

“The next thing I knew my husband, Morgan, offered to build heavy-duty racks. The money that was collected throughout the year was a real blessing — $600 later we had racks,” she said.

In the meantime, dress donations have poured in.

“We appreciate all of the help from the community. Without them, this place wouldn’t survive,” she said, adding that gowns and dresses of all sizes are accepted and appreciated but there’s a particular need for plus-size dresses 22 and up.

Royce is helped by key volunteers Natalie Koziara of Weirton, a teacher at Brooke Middle School, and Cindi Curry, a friend of Royce’s and a member at Crossroads.

“This freed me up a little bit because there were days I was running back and forth three or four times a day, five days a week,” commented Royce, who was recruited by Amy Marcino and Sue Campbell to be on Crossroads craft committee. That invitation spurred involvement in the church.

“Ministry and helping others is a part of my soul, and it was a good fit,” Royce said. An indoor spring craft show fundraiser for Beautiful Blessings will be held at Crossroads Christian Church on April 2 from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Homemade crafters are wanted. Spaces are $30 with a $25 Chinese auction donation. To participate, contact Amy at (740) 275-8625 or Sue at (740) 632-0112.

“People ask where does the money go, and well, these gowns have to be cleaned most always,” Royce said. “I thank God we had what we had to build those racks. I’ve had to buy two used dresses at a minimal price for 2+ size girls. They cried at the parking lot because there was nothing that fit them. That’s not what this is about. I’ve only had one person that I haven’t been able to dress,” she said.

“The average dresses have come in on a regular basis, and I’m grateful more than you know, but the plus sizes have been a challenge,” Royce explained. “And it’s heartbreaking when the girls can’t find something that fits and that they feel great in.”

Royce said she has three rules when girls come to Beautiful Blessings.

“First and foremost, just try it on. Secondly, let me take your picture — we will crop your head off and post the picture for people to see. You have no idea the response of the community when they see their dresses being picked and worn,” she said of feedback. “And the look on the young lady’s face when she puts on ‘the dress’ is quite apparent. The funny thing is, they look at me like I’m crazy when I pull these dresses out after eyeballing their shape, and I make them try them on because they don’t like them. Ninety-five percent of the time, they leave with the one they hated,” she said.

“They have fun, they feel special, and they transform from a wilted, discouraged teen, into a beautiful flower — a beautiful blessing,” Royce said she reminds the girls. “I remind them of that — that God created them, that God loves them and that he believes them to be a beautiful blessing,” she added.

Her third rule is that they send her a picture.

“Many have not, but the ones who do are happy, feel beautiful, look beautiful, and look confident,” she said. “Many of them would not have been able to go to their dances.”

“It’s been asked if we have tuxes, ties or shirts for boys, and we simply don’t have the room,” she said.

“And I feel very strongly at this time, I’m supposed to be right where I’m at. As time goes on, high schools continue to have formals, and 80 ofthose going buy new gowns. Most of them aren’t able to sell them and like me, you end up with 30 gowns sitting in the closet. Why not donate them and make a girl feel special?”

Last Sunday afternoon was a busy time at Beautiful Blessings where as many as 15 teens had come to try on dresses, some of them getting simple alterations done by volunteer Pam Burdwood-Hout.

Bobby Jo Six of Wintersville and her daughter, Kaley, a senior at Indian Creek High School, were waiting their turn for an alteration.

Kaley learned about it through a friend and then read of it on Facebook.

As a parent, Bobby Jo said she appreciated the outreach. “Dresses are really expensive, really hard to find, so yes, this is great. I think this is awesome. You know how many kids don’t get to go because they don’t have the money?”

“It’s really nice because most of the kids I go to school with their dresses are costing $600, and that’s way too much for a dress,” commented Mya Kallay, a student at Catholic Central High School. “It’s just nice to have the option to come here.”

Her mother, Ashley Kallay, commented, “I think it’s awesome. When I went to school, they didn’t have anything like this. You had to drive hours to go to different shops. It’s nice to have something local and you can donate the dresses back. I think it’s really nice.”

Kimberly Casey was there with her stepdaughter Jade, a student at Indian Creek High School.

“I work at one of the cafe casinos in Weirton and was speaking with a couple of the ladies there who have daughters my daughter’s age and they said, ‘Oh, you have to check out this dress place in Wintersville, and I said well what is it?'” Kimberly said in explaining how she learned about Beautiful Blessings.

“I am very impressed with the selection. There are hundreds of dresses here with accessories and shoes. If you can’t find it here, I don’t know where you’re going to find it. It’s a wonderful program,” Kimberly added.

Jade was happy with her choices — two of them. “I tried a lot of dresses on that we loved — really nice dresses,” Jade said. “We’re going to look for a necklace and possibly a clutch,” Jade said.

Koziara runs the Clothes Closet at Brooke Middle School which helps with everyday clothing, shoes and hygiene items and thought she’d enjoy helping with the formal wear effort once she learned about it. She sees the value in it.

“I know whenever I went to prom, I always had a budget, and we couldn’t go over it, and I had very few things to pick from for how much it was,” she said. “Now things are even more expensive and not everybody can afford it, but you should still feel excited and comfortable in what you have on and be proud of it so I think this is just a perfect way to help. Everybody has dresses in their closet that have been there for probably 10 years. You’re not going to wear them again. You might as well give them to somebody who can wear them.”

While Koziara has been involved in the outreach only a few months, she’s been there long enough to see how appreciated it is.

“That’s so fun — I love that,” she said when girls come to look for dresses. “I like whenever they put something on and you can just tell, that’s it, that’s the one, they look happy, they look beautiful, they’re excited about it. We pick out accessories and shoes and the whole thing. It’s fun,” she said.

Donations don’t have to be long gowns — they can be dresses, too — and retro styles appeal to many.

Curry said she involved as a volunteer because she loves fashion, feels blessed and wants to serve God and enjoys it, too.

“Seeing the girls get their dresses and their smiles and their faces when they find the right dress” is what Curry described as what she most enjoys.

Royce said she’s even helped brides-to-be, as many as six.

“We have wedding dresses being donated regularly,” Royce said, noting that the ministry had about 120 to 150 dresses go out last year.

“I’d love to have even more this year,” Royce said.

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