Try-On Day is about much more that the 7,000 dresses honorees can choose from to wear to the upcoming An Evening of Believing Prom.
The Sandbox, a Charlotte nonprofit that assists and supports children with cancer or other life-altering illnesses, and their families, hosted the daylong event Aug. 15 at Christ Lutheran Church on Providence Road.
This year’s event was the fifth annual Try-On Day, in which children supported by the organization, and their families, could get outfitted for an extravagant prom.
“There’s so much joy and excitement,” said Mara Campolungo, executive director of The Sandbox.
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The Sandbox provides dresses, shoes and jewelry or rental tuxedos to all prom honorees and guests. Items for girls are donated, while the organization pays for tuxedo rentals.
Many participants leave the event feeling like royalty.
Melkadas Kelson’s daughter Gracey, 2, will be the youngest at this year’s prom. Gracey’s older sister picked out white dresses for both of them.
“Once they put them on, they looked even more like angels,” Kelson wrote in an email. “It was such a beautiful experience because some of The Sandbox family came in and took pictures and were just in awe of how angelic they looked.
“It was such a great feeling for all of us.”
Gracey was diagnosed with an absent pulmonary valve in-utero, and later with DiGeorge syndrome, a chromosomal disorder. She went into cardiac arrest for almost an hour during open-heart surgery when she was 91/2 months old, but she recovered and continues to fight for her health.
It was such a beautiful experience.
Melkadas Kelson, mother of An Evening of Believing Prom attendee
Kelson said Try-On Day allowed her family to focus on “one another and looking beautiful,” not on doctor’s appointments and medications.
For many families, Try-On Day and the upcoming prom provide a similarly welcome diversion from grim diagnoses, treatments and difficult daily routines. Children who attend An Evening of Believing Prom have diagnoses ranging from cancer to brittle bone disease to a rare form of dwarfism.
Children and families are connected with The Sandbox through churches and health organizations. The Sandbox makes sure honorees are pampered at both events. This year, children and their guests were welcomed into Christ Lutheran Church for Try-On Day on a red carpet.
Immediately, the guests feel special, and they get a glimpse of what it’s like to be part of The Sandbox.
Mara Campolungo, executive director of The Sandbox
They were met inside by a high school student mentor assigned to each family.
“Immediately, the guests feel special, and they get a glimpse of what it’s like to be part of The Sandbox when they are welcomed in such a grand way,” Campolungo said.
The Sandbox took over much of Christ Lutheran Church for the day, turning classrooms into fitting rooms and setting up a boutique of dresses organized by size and color.
Some girls loved the first dress they tried on, while others went through 20 or 30 before finding the right one, Campolungo said. She said children also enjoyed helping their parents and other family members choose outfits for the big event.
After the fitting, families could gather for breakfast or lunch provided by The Sandbox, and a photo booth, which was new this year. Campolungo said that many photo-booth strips quickly appeared on social media.
“They walked out of there with a beautiful memory, and it helps them to focus on the countdown to prom,” Campolungo said. “They have a visual that helps them through the day-to-day.”
Some honorees missed their own proms because they were in treatment. Others are home-schooled because of their diagnosis and would not have an opportunity to attend prom otherwise.
Campolungo said she expects between 300 and 350 people to attend this year’s An Evening of Believing Prom, to be held Sept. 25 in uptown Charlotte. All female honorees will be treated to hair, nails and makeup at Aveda Hair Salon, and boys can get a shave there if they choose.
The evening will begin with limousine arrivals and a throng of “paparazzi,” who will welcome each guest with cheering and shouts of “We believe!”
The evening of food, dancing and fun will end with a balloon drop.
“We try to design it to be over the top so that the honorees really feel like rock stars,” Campolungo said.
Marty Minchin is a freelance writer: email@example.com.
For information about The Sandbox, visit http://gotsandbox.org.