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Cinderella visits Smart Start Rowan

It’s not every day in the Kingdom of Salisbury that you see a real, live princess. But that’s exactly what happened on Tuesday at Smart Start Rowan, where Cinderella led her very own story hour.

Truth be told, when news of her impending visit spread, the response was so overwhelming that two additional sessions were added, according to Laura Villegas, Smart Start’s director of programs.

Altogether, some 75 little princesses — and a few princes, too — attended the sessions. They were just as excited as their parents, grandparents and caregivers.

The fact that many of the little girls were wearing their own princess garb was not lost on Cinderella.

“I see that some of you princesses have on your dresses,” she said, in a soft, lilting voice. “That makes me very happy.”

She continued, “I’m so very excited to be with each and every one of you today.”

The main emphasis of Cinderella’s visit was good manners, and she first read a story about manners, featuring the Disney princesses. When she got to a page with Cinderella, she said with breathy excitement, “That’s me!”

Next, she led the slightly awed children in a princess dance, complete with waving their arms gracefully and twirling.

She even answered questions from the young visitors. When asked what she did at her castle with the other princesses, she responded, “We come together, we brush each other’s hair, we put on make-up and we share our jewelry. We have tea parties, dancing and fashion shows.”

All the while, she noted, using good manners.

As part of the story hour, children got to make booklets and magic wands, and took home a free book as well. Samaria Black, 3, wore a beautiful green dress while patiently waiting her turn to have her picture made with Cinderella.

Samaria’s mom, Myeshia, works with Krystal Schmidt in the Parents as Teachers program offered by Smart Start. She also has twins Micaiah and DJ, 1.

“I love it!” Black said about Parents as Teachers. “We’ve had three meetings. With the twins, we are working on fine motor skills, and with Samaria, we’re working on sharing.”

Molly Connell saw a flyer at the library and brought her daughter Addison, 31, to story hour.

“This is so neat,” Connell said, as younger daughter, Carter, watched from her stroller. “This is so up Addison’s alley. This is our first program. We did not know about Smart Start.”

It was a bittersweet day for Samantha Sykes, who brought her daughter Shyann, 5. Sykes has been working with Smart Start since her daughter was 6 months old, and Shyann will leave the program this fall when she enters kindergarten.

“We all work together,” Sykes said. “You really learn a lot. They’re there when you’re crying and they’re there when you’re happy, and when you’re crying again.”

When Cinderella is not busy delighting young audiences, she’s known as Chelsea Rehak, a middle-school teacher who lives in Concord and works in Charlotte. The Rowan County native said she’d love to teach here. (Note to schools: Hire Cinderella if at all possible.)

Villegas said she was thrilled with the turnout and will plan similar events in the future, next time, perhaps something more gender-neutral. But it would be hard to top Cinderella.

“She was even better than I expected,” Villegas said.

Ever the polite princess, Cinderella made sure she said goodbye to each participant.

“And may all your dreams come true!” she added with a smile.

Freelance writer Susan Shinn lives in Salisbury.

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