USO helps teens find the right gown at Fort Bragg event
By PAIGE RENTZ | The Fayetteville Observer, N.C. | Published: November 16, 2015
FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. (Tribune News Service) — Ania White pulled a pink and white dress off a rack.
"It's so cute," the 15-year-old said.
"It's so short," her mother, Nischa White, responded.
Despite her mother's concerns, the dress made the list as the pair, with the help of Miss Tennessee USA, selected styles for Ania to try on.
Before long, she emerged from the fitting rooms, clad in a floor-length gown of red lace. She had found her dress.
White was one of 400 teens, military spouses and female servicemembers able to take part in Operation That's My Dress, a day of beauty and fashion hosted by the United Service Organizations that sends participants home with giveaways, including a formal dress for prom or other functions.
The event, hosted by the USO of North Carolina in partnership with the USO of Metropolitan New York, included performances by the USO Show Troupe, a fashion show featuring professional models and Miss USA contestants, and hair and makeup demonstrations by professional stylists.
The Miss USA contestants also served as personal stylists for the participants, helping them choose their dresses and walking them through the process.
As the event was set to begin Sunday afternoon, a line of people still extended into the parking lot of the Fort Bragg Conference and Catering Center. So many participants and family members attended that the center was at capacity and organizers conducted two fashion shows.
Ray Kennedy, vice president for programs and services for the USO of Metropolitan New York, said the program in its third year has given out about 2,800 dresses.
"Through the incredible donations of Sherri Hill, an internationally famous fashion designer, and pageant stores and prom stores, we're able to give out brand new holiday dresses to female service members, military spouses and military teens."
As much as the program is a budget relief for many military families, Kennedy said, there's a great focus on inner beauty and empowerment.
"So much of this day," he said, "is the interaction between the model, the stylist and the young teen ... making the girls feel really special."
Kristy Landers Niedenfuer, 2014 Miss Tennessee USA, helped Ania and her mother choose a dress for the Overhills High School ROTC student to wear to the school's military ball.
"It definitely helped me out," Ania said. "I wasn't completely sure what I wanted, but narrowing down what I had was easier."
Nischa White, an Air Force tech sergeant stationed at Pope Field, said it can be tough shopping with teenagers.
"But she actually got to walk around with Miss Tennessee and listen to some of her input on style of dresses, and that weighed a lot in her selection," she said. "And she was right: it's beautiful, so we're happy with the selection."
Niedenfuer said Operation That's My Dress is such an incredible program that she was hooked after volunteering at an event in New York City. Sunday's event was her eighth.
"There's nothing like it," she said. "Being able to bond with these girls, I've never experienced anything quite like it, and it's something I hope to be able to do for a long time."
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