Making Fairy Tales Come True

October 20, 2011

Robin Bahr figured out a way to support two causes close to her heart: cancer prevention and empowering girls.

By Katherine Tarbox, REALTOR® Magazine

After age 4, there are few days when a girl gets to feel like a princess. Robin Bahr missed out on one of the biggest. “I didn’t go to prom,” says Bahr, ABR, CRS, a sales associate with Coldwell Banker Riviera Real Estate in Bayville, N.J. “At the time, both of my parents were ill with cancer, and I was taking care of my four younger siblings.” As one of seven sisters, she didn’t even bother to question whether she could attend; even if she could get the night free, she says, she wouldn’t have been able to afford the dress.

Flash forward to 2008: Bahr’s daughter Elisabeth, then a high school senior, mentioned that some of her classmates were not going to be able to attend prom because of the financial burden. Bahr remembered acutely her own disappointment. Wouldn’t it be nice, she thought, for every woman to feel empowered enough to be the belle of the ball?

The wheels in her head started turning. Bahr realized she could bring some magic to the lives of young women while serving a cause that had long been dear to her heart: the American Cancer Society. For more than a decade, beginning in 1997, Bahr had been serving as a team captain for the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life of Tom’s River, N.J. The Relay for Life is a 24-hour team relay designed to celebrate survivorship and raise money for research and programs. Bahr’s Relay team was looking for new fund-raising ideas. What better way to honor her parents and sisters, she thought, than through a project that helped young women?

"Relay for Life is a weekend event, but it's a life long commitment for me," says Bahr, who lost her mother to cancer when she was a teenager and her father when she was 35. "I thought [combining the two efforts] would be an awesome way to empower young people to follow their dreams, to encourage them to take care of their health, and to remind them to 'pay it forward.'" 

Bahr and her daughter started collecting prom dresses and gowns from friends, real estate colleagues, clients, high school students, dress shops, and anyone who would donate. The project was dubbed “Patti’s Prom Project,” after Patti Wagher, the secretary for the Ocean County Board of REALTORS®, a survivor of stage IV lung cancer. “Patti has given more people hope than anyone I know,” Bahr says. “She is a strong woman who demonstrates that anything is possible.”

In its first year, the program drew more than 2,200 dresses and 700 pairs of shoes. As donations poured in, Bahr’s home filled up with dresses, shoes, boxes of tuille, and accessories such as evening bags and gloves. “I’ll never forget the look on my husband’s face when he discovered his beloved garage was turned into a prom dress warehouse,” Bahr says.

Bahr enlisted a local dry cleaner, VIP Cleaners in Bayville, N.J., to clean 700 dresses at no charge. In addition, she obtained donations for corsages, hair styling, and even limousine services. “The response was overwhelming,” Bahr says. “We had more gift certificates than we had girls.”

The mother-daughter team set up a boutique in a local banquet hall and organized what they thought would be a one-day event on March 1. The demand was so great that they relocated to a donated storefront in a strip mall and remained open right through prom season.“Robin manned the store for six hours a day, five days a week,” says Ann Schuld, a broker with Ann Schuld Realty and the chairperson of the Relay For Life of Toms River for the American Cancer Society. 

That first year, more than 500 girls from all over Ocean County walked away with a dress for their prom. Their only cost was a suggested $20 donation to the American Cancer Society. “We didn’t turn anyone away if they couldn’t pay,” Bahr says.

Now, three years down the road, Patti’s Prom Project has raised more than $17,000 for the local Relay for Life, and Bahr keeps working to expand the project, reaching out to local local media outlets and helping neighboring towns start dress fund-raisers. And it’s not only teenage girls who get to feel like princesses. Last year Bahr gave 500 dresses to the American Cancer Society’s Cancer Prom, held every five years in New York for survivors of cancer. She also opens the shop, now in a standing location, for cancer survivors who need a dress for a special event.

"I think what she's doing is awesome. It's not only a prom project, it's a community project" says Jennifer Berry, 18, senior at Central Regional High School, in Bayville, N.J., who volunteers at the store.

Bahr tries to offer every girl who comes into the shop an empowering experience. “I encourage them to become the very best they can be, to continue with their education, and to always respect themselves and those around them,” she says.

And the shop has become something of a “cancer information boutique,” Bahr says. She passes out brochures about cancer prevention and gently reminds teens about the dangers of smoking and skipping sunscreen. 

Over her 14 years as a Relay for Life team captain, Bahr has raised more than $40,000. She also serves on the organizing committee for Relay for Life of Toms River, which holds eight annual events, raising $100,000 per year. She says her parents would be proud of her volunteer work. "My mother loved her girls,” Bahr says. “She had eight daughters in 10 years—and she would have loved what we are doing. If she were here, she probably would be picking up and delivering the dresses herself.

“You take your own experiences and instead of focusing on the pain, you try to make life better," Bahr says. "You don't forget, but you do the best you can to make one person smile." From the hundreds of messages on the Patti’s Prom Project Facebook page, it’s evident that Bahr has done that and more.


Contact Robin Bahr, ABR, CRS, GRI, SRES, Coldwell Banker Riviera Real Estate, at Robinrealtor@comcast.net or www.rivierarealty.com.


Robin Bahr is one of 10 finalists for REALTOR® Magazine's Good Neighbor Awards, a grant program that recognizes REALTORS® who make exceptional volunteer contributions to their communities. We’ll bring you the story of one of the finalists each day until October 20. On October 21, online voting will open for a Web Choice Award. The top vote getter will receive a $500 gift card from Lowe's. Votes will be accepted through October 28. 

Of the 10 Good Neighbor finalists, the five winners will be named on November 2. (Web Choice voting does not play a role in the selection of the winners.) The winners will receive $10,000 grants for their community projects and $2,500 Lowe's gift cards and will be honored at the REALTORS® Conference & Expo in Anaheim on November 12. The remaining five finalists will receive $2,500 grants for their cause and $1,000 Lowe's gift cards.

The Good Neighbor Awards is supported by Lowe’s and HouseLogic.


Read Other Published Profiles of the 2011 Finalists:

  • Love Your Neighbor: Wayne J. Shaffer, Santa Cruz, Calif.

  • Connecting Communities One Trail at a Time: Lynn Reecer,  Fort Wayne, Ind.

  • Water is Life: Judy Pitt, Boulder, Colo.

  • Healing Their Wounds: Vito Anthony Pampalona, Rochester, Mich.
  • Becoming Better, Not Bitter: Mark Meinhardt, Cincinnati

  • Building a Safe Haven for Teenagers: Christian Klueg, Northville, N.Y.

  • Change from the Ground Up: Marta Karpiel, Carmel, Calif.

  • Opening Young People's Eyes, Hearts, and Minds: Beth Fernandez, Glen Rock, N.J.

  • Riding for a Cure: LeRoy Bendickson, Edina, MN