BROOKSVILLE — Nineteen-year-old Shelby DeRamus tiptoed out of a changing room at Patricia's Boutique in her party-pink gown to oohs and aahs.
As the Hernando High School senior stepped onto a riser, someone asked, "Are you a tomboy?" She nodded a little shyly. She plays basketball and runs track at school.
But on Saturday night, Shelby will come as Cinderella to her school's prom — her first formal event ever — at Glen Lakes Country Club.
The young woman was chosen by school counselors as the most worthy to be transformed, made possible by fairy godmothers from the Junior Service League of Brooksville and Patricia's Boutique, owned by Patricia Lambright.
At no cost to Shelby or her family, they clothed her in the tight-fitted, sparkly gown that flares into a flounce at the knee. They fitted her in heels with rhinestone-covered straps, hung pink drop crystal earrings on her lobes and placed a tiny rhinestone tiara on her head.
Boutique manager Angie Woodruff stepped up, said, "We thought you might need a purse" and then hung on Shelby's shoulder a silver sequined bag with a silver chain.
"Thank God for miracles," breathed Shelby's aunt Stella Williams, 59, a part-time caregiver to her niece, along with another aunt, Karla Stewart, 47. The girl's primary caregiver is her great-aunt, Mattie Goodson, 89.
Shelby's mother was murdered in Orlando in December 2006 by her mother's boyfriend. The teen said she didn't know what precipitated the attack. The man is serving a 27-year prison sentence. Shelby indicated that she didn't know the whereabouts of her father.
Not only have the aunts come to her rescue, but Shelby has buckled down herself. Last school term, she made the honor roll while still engaged in her athletic pursuits. She is applying for teaching scholarships. She wants to become a kindergarten teacher, enrolling first at Pasco-Hernando Community College.
Her aunts, Stewart and Williams, are career mentors. Stewart is an employee of Hernando-Pasco Hospice. Williams works with the Hernando County Health Department and is pastor at Holy Band DT Inc. in Brooksville.
Stewart said Shelby called her immediately from school when she learned she had won the Cinderella award.
"She was so happy," Stewart said. "We're excited for her."
The aunts know of the importance of proms. Between them, they've dressed three daughters, five granddaughters and three great-granddaughters for such events.
Patricia's Boutique also knows. The shop registered Shelby's gown with the school so that no one else would appear in a like dress.
The Cinderella honor included hair and fingernail services for Shelby. Also, her date, Robert Warren, a high school junior, 17, was outfitted with a tuxedo. Their $45 ticket to the prom was paid for.
"It's the whole princess experience," said shop owner Lambright. She pegged the price tag at close to $600.
Wendy Nugent, chairwoman of the Junior Service League Cinderella's Prom program committee, said she had read of a program in North Carolina in which a service organization collected once-worn gowns to give to needy promgoers, some of them in crisis situations. As a teacher at Springstead High School, Nugent said, she has also observed that "lots of girls couldn't go to the prom because they couldn't afford it."
Rather than dress the girls in hand-me-downs, the league decided to take the program up a notch. Said Lambright, also a league member: "If we're going to do it, we want to do it with excellence."
"I think it's a powerful idea," said Nugent.
This marks the second year for a Hernando County teen to be turned into a princess for a night, an experience that could stay with her for a lifetime and boost self-esteem.
The league, with 32 active members, believes in helping the community, notably women, said Nugent, immediate past president. It contributes to programs including the Dawn Center, a haven for victims of domestic violence; the Loft, which focuses on aid to older women; scholarships for students at Pasco-Hernando Community College; and Christmas baskets for the needy.
One of the league's two main fundraisers is in the works, a raffle program called Queen for a Day. The winner will enjoy spa treatments, a hair makeover and gifts. Tickets are available from league members or at Holbrook Dentistry in Brooksville. The drawing is scheduled for around Mother's Day, May 11.
Nugent also urged shoppers to visit the league's huge annual yard sale the Saturday before Thanksgiving; the site will be announced later.
Proceeds from all of the fundraisers, she hopes, will dress and crown two Cinderellas next year.
Beth Gray can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.