By Lonnie Wilkey
Editor, Baptist and Reflector

Pastor Todd Stinnett of Black Oak Heights Baptist Church, Knoxville and church secretary Lynnsey McBee look over prom dresses that the church is giving away at no cost to girls attending proms at nearby high schools. The effort, called the “Princess Project” is an attempt by the church to reach the community with the gospel.
— Photo by Chris Turner

KNOXVILLE — Black Oak Heights Baptist Church here has been looking for creative ways “to get out of the box” in order to reach their community with the gospel, said pastor Todd Stinnett.

Stinnett heard about a church that offered free prom dresses to high school girls and it struck a chord with him. His sister-in-law, Lindsay Maples, who owns Hair Designers at Deane Hill, had for some time helped girls get ready for prom.

He called Maples to see if she would be willing to work with the church to help girls at Powell High School in Powell and nearby Bearden High School in Knoxville attend their proms at little or no cost. They have named the ministry the “Princess Project.”

Stinnett noted the cost of attending a prom is staggering. By the time a girl buys a dress and gets her hair and nails done the cost can reach nearly $1,000, he said.

“We wanted to take the burden off the parents and the students,” Stinnett said. “We are able to show the love of God to these people,” he added.

“We hope that will open their hearts to a relationship with Jesus Christ.”

Stinnett observed that people in the community are seeing a church meeting a real need for these young ladies.

He said the church has been given more than 100 formal prom dresses. All have been dry cleaned by area dry cleaners at a reduced or no cost.

The community has embraced the project, Stinnett said. Local hair stylists have volunteered to help Maples provide hair styling, makeup, and manicures for any girls attending the Powell High prom. The services will be provided on May 6.

Maples told WATE television in Knoxville that “we want them to be able to have the time of their life and experience prom by doing their hair and nails and dresses and everything and just being able to relax and enjoy it like they’ve always dreamed of.”

Ironically, the church had everything in place but students who needed the services.

Lori Tucker, a local news anchor with WATE, came to their aid and recently did a news segment on what the church was doing. They met with administrators at both Powell and Bearden high schools and got the word out to students. The response has been good, Stinnett said.

The church opened its fellowship hall on April 15 for girls to come and “shop” for the free dresses. “The girls can keep the dresses and when they can no longer use them, they can bless someone else,” the pastor said.

Girls who could not come to the church on April 15 can still get a dress as long as they are available, Stinnett said. The church also is continuing to accept donations and plans on repeating the event again next year.

Pat Morden, who lives in the Black Oaks Heights community, heard about the project and donated her prom dress. She told WATE, “I felt like a princess that day and I want someone else to enjoy this dress.”

Stinnett expressed his appreciation to the church and community. “It’s been awesome how everyone has stepped up,” he said.

For more information, contact the church at 865-689-5397.