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Butterfly Dress Project provides more than dresses

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LAS CRUCES – Kandi Kiolbasa believes all girls deserve to feel beautiful.

After years of volunteering with the Cinderella Project — which for many years provided free prom dresses for Las Cruces girls who could not afford them — Kiolbasa stepped in to save the project when its founder moved away from Las Cruces.

“We just kind of started all over,” said Kiolbasa, who now runs The Butterfly Dress Project. “We started taking up donations, and people have been bringing us tons of gowns, jewelry and accessories. So I decided to take it a step further. Instead of just prom, we’re also going to include homecoming and every other dance and event — even quinceañeras and weddings.”

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She has also opened up the dresses to every girl &mdash; from middle school though college.

“No one should be left out,” she said, standing in the living room of a large home in Picacho Hills, where she had coordinated with a realtor to arrange a photo shoot to showcase some of the Project’s gowns. “And instead of just gowns, we also have accessories, shoes, bags and jewelry. Through volunteers, we will also be able to do hair and makeup &mdash; so girls get the royal treatment.”

Since taking over the project in March, she has provided 15 girls with gowns, and she has an additional 30 who are scheduled to come in and try on gowns as they prepare for homecoming and winter ball.

The Butterfly Dress Project is also working with young girls to educate them on dance and event safety, date rape, and the dangers of drugs, drunk driving and texting while driving. Through a new partnership with La Casa, Kiolbasa hopes to also educate girls about domestic violence and help improve their self-esteem, she said.

In the kitchen of the vacant mansion, Lynn Derksen, a Mary Kay consultant, applied makeup to models.

“Our mission is to empower the lives of women, and so it just works beautifully with what the mission of The Butterfly Project is,” Derksen said. “I’m part of the experience we are creating for the girls, to help them feel beautiful.”

Derksen said she and Kiolbasa share a vision that has been supported by the community.

“We’ve discovered that people from all aspects of the community want to be a part of this,” she said. “It’s a part of educating women, empowering them, helping them feel beautiful with who they are.”

Of course, the dresses also help to alleviate a financial burden that some families simply cannot bear.

“We understand that there are a lot of girls out there who would love to be a part of the social experience of prom, or that homecoming dance, but they may not have the money to get a dress,” Derksen said. “The tickets even cost money to go to all of these dances. So the Las Cruces school district has worked with us to make sure that money is not an obstacle for girls who might otherwise not be able to attend.”

Derksen said the Butterfly Dress Project has also talked to the Las Cruces Police Department, to discuss offering safety workshops for the girls.

Abby Caffaro, 20, became involved with the project through her little sister.

“This project is really great, because it gives all girls the opportunity to go to prom,” Caffaro said.

For information on the Butterfly Dress Project or to donate a gently-used gown, visit the organization’s Facebook page at

“Every girl has beauty,” Derksen said. “And we want them to feel that.”


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