Not every girl in our community gets to try on beautiful dresses for their prom or for the big dance or for some other special occasion.

Not every girl (or their family) can afford that.

But there’s a place in Rome where those who need it, can have a boutique experience. There are hundreds of beautiful dresses in all styles, colors and sizes in a room at Harbor House Child Advocacy Center. Those who need it, can visit by appointment and walk away with a dress for their special event.

The concept started about four years ago when Berry College students came up with the idea to provide formal dresses of all colors and sizes for local girls who couldn’t afford to shop at a boutique. At first the dresses were housed at Restoration Rome under the stewardship of Sue Lagermann, director of Floyd County Court Appointed Special Advocate for Children.

The idea was to provide a place where formal dresses could be donated and where those who needed them, could come to try on and select a dress if they couldn’t afford to buy one somewhere else.

Community members started donating dresses (brand new and gently used) and the collections soon grew too large for its location at Restoration Rome.

Last year, staff members at Harbor House Child Advocacy Center heard about the need for a new space for all the dresses donated, and they decided to help.

Elizabeth Williams, a forensic interviewer and Kevin Hall, a child and family advocate with HH, have been spearheading the project to not just house the dresses, but to provide an inviting space where community members who really need it, can visit, try on dresses and have a boutique experience in privacy and with no judgment.

“It’s largely geared toward foster families,” Williams said. “But anyone who really needs it can come. We wanted to offer more than just dresses. We wanted to offer the same experience you’d have if you could afford a nice boutique. We don’t think anyone should be robbed of that experience.”

Sassy Sue’s Closet isn’t a terribly large room, but it’s light and bright and warm and welcoming. There is a standing mirror in the corner, as well as a rack of shoes, and several pieces of jewelry. There are even a few handbags. And there are dresses — more than 300 dresses of all styles and colors. Some are sparkling while others are a bit more unadorned. Some are long elegant gowns while others are cocktail-length. And they come in every size and color imaginable.

But they’re all either new or gently used.

“We’ve gotten a lot of donations from across the community,” Williams said. “For example, the Perfect Dress of Rome has donated many of our dresses so we have lots of dresses here that are brand new. We hope to get it to where it’s a true boutique experience.”

Hall said he wants children from foster families and low-income families to know that they’re welcome.

“We don’t judge,” he said. “If you can’t afford a dress somewhere else, then come to us. It can be for a prom or homecoming or any other big special event. And there aren’t a bunch of people here when you’re looking for a dress. It’s by appointment only, so it’s really a personal, private experience.”

The room in which the dresses are kept is called “Sassy Sue’s Closet,” named for CASA director Sue Lagermann who Williams said has been a part of the Harbor House family for so long.

“It’s a big honor for me,” Lagermann said. “It feels so special and it’s something that warms my heart knowing that there are girls in this community who wouldn’t have had this wonderful experience but now they can. They deserve that.”

Sassy Sue’s Closet contains a large ottoman donated by Craze Boutique as well as several pairs of shoes and of course the hundreds of dresses. The walls were decorating with colorful lettering done by Hallie Marie McErlain, a junior Elementary Education student at Berry College.

To set up an appointment with Sassy Sue’s Closet, or to donate dresses, jewelry or accessories, call 706-235-5437.

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