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Tarentum teen helps make prom dreams come true

| Monday, May 13, 2013, 1:21 a.m.
Bill Shirley | For The Valley News Dispatch
Danielle Batista a Highlands Middle School student Head-Shot at Highlands Middle School on Friday May 10, 2013.
Bill Shirley | For The Valley News Dispatch
Danielle Batista (right) an 8th grade student at Highlands Middle School, who collected 100 prom dresses to donate to the Cinderella's Closet charity and Jeannine Vivino (left), a Language Arts teacher at the school and who played a key part in helping and supporting Danielle with her dress collection project, take a walk outside at Highlands Middle School on Friday May 10, 2013.

Although she may seem young for the part, 14-year-old Danielle Basista recently stepped into the role of fairy godmother, and the results were pure magic.

The efforts of the Highlands Middle School eighth-grader resulted in the collection of nearly 100 gowns for Cinderella's Closet, an organization that provides free prom dresses for girls who can't afford them.

Basista was inspired by her experience in January at the Highlands Middle School winter formal. She had such a great time there that she wanted to be sure that others could have the same opportunity.

“I had a really good time at the formal, and I imagine prom is 10 times better even,” she said. “I think everyone should be able to have that.”

That was when she came up with the idea of collecting dresses. She asked for assistance with the project and language arts teacher Jeannine Vivino stepped in, helping the Tarentum teen to pair up with Cinderella's Closet.

“Giving back is a very rewarding experience,” she said. “The best gift is giving. The best reward is giving to others.”

The opportunity to do just that happened at Highlands last month with the collection for the local Cinderella's Closet, which is ministry of the North Apollo Church of God.

The drive took place at the middle school for several days after school. It attracted a steady stream of donations from those in the Highlands community.

Dresses recently were distributed at an open house event that included accessories and the opportunity to have nails and make-up done.

“We were overwhelmed by the response Danielle's dress drive received; it was Cinderella's Closet's largest single donation source of 2013,” said Kristie Zimmerman, co-director of Cinderella's Closet.

“We are grateful for the support of Danielle and the faculty at Highlands Middle School. The ministry depends entirely on donations and volunteers, and Danielle's efforts helped Cinderella's Closet to provide free prom dresses to many girls in our community,” Zimmerman said.

Vivino, too, was impressed by the enthusiastic response.

“Being able to help them and to know that they can do that, it warms my heart,” she said. “It was just a wonderful thing to be a part of.”

Basista's efforts also warmed the heart of her mother, Sondra Basista.

“She's always been so sweet like that,” she said. “She's such a caring and giving person.”

From the sounds of it, Basista's dress-drive experience reinforced her generous nature.

“I learned that giving back is an important part of life,” she said.

“The biggest reward that comes out of this is helping people.”

It's a lesson Basista plans to take with her to high school. She's already thinking about ways to continue and expand the Highlands dress collection effort — possibly by enlisting fellow students to help volunteer at the annual Cinderella's Closet open house.

Julie E. Martin is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.

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