Kelbe Lampkins entered the room and walked into her future. After two years together, one child and one on the way, she and her fiancé Marcus Davis were finally getting married.
The first steps of their special day one of eight weddings in Sacramento's first "Wedding Marathon" began in a bridal room Saturday morning at Westminster Presbyterian Church in downtown Sacramento.
Lampkins walked in about 45 minutes before the ceremony. She looked at the makeup artists, the hairstylists, the florist and photographers with their cameras flashing and said, "Wow. I didn't expect all this." She knew everyone in the room had donated their time, goods and services to help Lampkins and the seven other brides.
All too often, low-income men and women miss out on life's milestones, said Carolyn Curtis, executive director of the Relationship Skills Center in Sacramento. She and her staff wanted couples who had completed a six-week marriage-preparation class to experience the milestone of a church wedding, something many of them wanted but couldn't afford.
"The Sacramento Wedding Marathon," was the first event of its kind organized by the Relationship Skills Center, which runs the Flourishing Families program as part of a federal grant to serve low-income, unwed couples dealing with pregnancy. In the program, couples learn budgeting, conflict management, communications skills, and stress management.
In the past five years, 750 couples in the Sacramento area completed the program.
Saturday, eight of them married. Everything from the church sanctuary to the wedding dresses were donated by area residents. More than 40 volunteers helped.
The Rev. Garry Cox, a retired pastor of Westminster organized the clergy who presided over the ceremonies. Cox said he wanted low-income people to have the same experiences as others.
"It's so ingrained in our culture that we think anyone can get married, but that's not true," Cox said.
He said at Westminster, for example, it cost $1,500 to marry. That includes the use of the sanctuary, an organist, a wedding rehearsal and the pastor's fee. "Some people just don't have those resources and so they don't have the access," he said.
Several of the couples who married Saturday needed donations to pay the $85 for their marriage licenses, said Curtis.
Twenty couples were originally scheduled for Saturday's event. Several dropped out because they didn't obtain their marriage licenses in time. Others wanted to wait.
Some of the couples who decided to go through with it, had planned to marry for years. Others said they only recently considered it.
Alisha Grimes and Edward Purcell have 11 children between them. "We wanted to do this for us and for our children," Grimes said. "We want to set a better example for them."
In 2007, Melody Holmes was living in her car with three children. Then she met Joshua Crowell and her life changed. They have now been together 3 1/2 years. The couple entered the relationship skills class to work on their communications skills, said Holmes.
"Now we both feel like the time is right, our relationship is strong," she said.
Holmes was a nervous bride Saturday.
"Be calm, be calm," she said to herself as she walked down the aisle. She had to fight back tears later as she entered the reception room where a DJ played and a two-tiered wedding cake waited to be cut.
"I'm so happy," Holmes said, taking it all in. "I can't believe this is happening,"
It didn't matter to the brides that the dresses had been worn before. "Not at all," said Danell Parales. "I'm so glad that someone was generous enough to donate it."
Two brides wore a dress donated by Jennifer Cox, the daughter of the retired pastor. She wore the $900 cream-colored gown for her 2005 wedding. "It was sitting in a box in my closet," Jennifer Cox said. "I'm so happy to see other women wearing it today."
Ginger Wong of Transformations Makeup Institute said makeup artists and hair stylists wanted to be a part of the day. "We know how transforming this can be," she said.
Renee Reibel got up at 3 a.m. to arrange the bridal bouquets donated by Flora Fresh, a wholesale distributor.
The stylists from Bia Salon spent 20 minutes huddled around Lampkins. Afterward, the bride beamed. "I can't believe it," she said.
Soon she was walking down the aisle. Lampkins and Davis were the first wedding of the day.
Only a handful of friends were in attendance, but the mood was joyful. Lampkins' voice quavered. The groom couldn't stop smiling.
"Strengthen them so they may fulfill their vows," Cox said.
Lampkins later said the day was everything she had hoped it would be and, now, her dream of a church wedding had been realized.
"I want to be right in the eyes of the Lord."