Sherry Haley always puts her family first.
“Normally everything we do is the whole family, all five of us,” says the 32-year-old military wife.
While her husband, Air Force Staff Sgt. Robert Haley, works long hours at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland, Sherry spends all day at home with her three kids, ages 4 to 12. Taking a break for herself is rarely an option. She home schools her oldest boy, and all three children have special learning and health needs, making it difficult to leave them with a babysitter.
But after seeing an email about the USO’s Project Cinderella at Fort Meade last month, Haley decided to treat herself to a Saturday on her own.
She wasn’t quite sure what to expect. What she found was like a fairy tale—a full day of primping and pampering for 120 military wives and active duty servicewomen, with free massages, facials, food, entertainment, prizes, and a high-end goodie bag that included a pashmina and a Coach brand wristlet.
“Normally that’s a little bit out of our price range,” says Haley. “A lot of the things they did for us, it’s not something we normally do.”
“If you’re not going to be the one to do it for yourself, the USO will do it for you!” says Queen Waddell of the Fort Meade USO. “It’s okay to take some time for yourself.”
Waddell conceived Project Cinderella as an extension of another USO Fort Meade program called Cinderella’s Closet—literally a closet full of new and almost-new gowns available free to servicewomen and military wives who need formal dresses for mandatory military functions.
Project Cinderella is a one-day annual event that takes it to the next level, with a selection of 600 gowns, plus shoes and accessories, bra fittings, advice on dressing for your body type, a tea party for young daughters and tips on military etiquette like how to introduce yourself in a receiving line.
Haley was also selected for a full head-to-toe makeover. A team of stylists rolled her hair, applied makeup and helped her choose a dress. At first she rejected their fashion advice.
“With my size I like to stick to darker colors,” says Haley. “And they said, ‘No, you just find an outfit that accentuates the right things. You don’t have to dress in black.”
She chose something completely outside her comfort zone, surprising herself and her entire family.
“My four-year-old opened the door and the first thing she said was, ‘Oh Mommy, you’re so boo-tiful!’ So I started crying right away.”
The storybook magic didn’t end there. Haley won a $500 gift card—with the condition she spend it only on herself. A few shopping trips later, she’s expanded her wardrobe with new styles, moving beyond basic black into a rainbow of blue and pink and purple.
These days, she takes a little extra time with her hair and makeup, and she credits Project Cinderella with boosting her confidence and sense of self worth.
“It was just like Cinderella. It really was,” she says, “Only when midnight struck, I didn’t lose everything. My gown got to come home with me, my shoes, the jewelry, and I came away with knowledge of how to do stuff like that for myself.” - Malini Wilkes, USO Director of Story Development