Making Prom Happen for Foster Care Girls

Pretty dresses, cute shoes, hair and make-up are all part of the prom experience for millions of American girls. But for many teenagers living in foster care, the prom is just one more thing out of their reach. In Los Angeles County, where over 1,200 teen girls are in foster care, CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) volunteers have stepped up to make sure prom happens for foster care kids with the two day special event Glamor Gowns Giveaway. This year, after an email from my wonderful bra shop (Jenette’s “where the alphabet begins at D”), I volunteered to help at the foundation garment table. To Jenette the event is very special, since a number of her family were raised in foster care. The event hit a chord with me because one of my oldest friends, Victoria , raised a number of foster children, facilitated the adoption of one of her fosters, and recently adopted a girl she had been fostering; so for me, this was a tribute to her.

Glamor Gowns was held at the Los Angeles Convention Center, where weirdly a cheerleading competition was also going on with loads of girls from 1st to 12th grade in full make-up and custom cheer gear, often with both parents in tow holding video cameras, clogging the escalators and halls. Just around the corner, in a large room, foster parents sat with their wards as hair and make-up teams went to work on the girls who had finished “shopping,” while others waited for their section to be called.

In the giveaway room, each girl received a number and was assigned a personal shopper who helped her pick out a dress from the hundreds of brand new donated gowns, along with shoes, jewelry and handbags. At Jenette’s table we helped girls and their shopper choose bras that would fit correctly. Since these were convertible bras which can go from strapless to halter style and back to “regular,” they were more than one-time use items. Jenette had arranged with her distributors to make sure there was a selection donated in every size range. Seamstresses from local studio unions donated their time to adjust the dresses to ensure they fit perfectly.

Personal shoppers included many women from Alpha Kappa Alpha–founded in 1908 at Howard University, it is now a nationwide community service-based sorority–as well as CASA volunteers and women to whom being of service is an important part of their lives. Local KTLA newscaster Michaela Pereira, an advisory board member of CASA who is very active in foster care issues, served as emcee of the event.

It was so wonderful to see the huge smiles on the girls’ faces as they modeled in their gowns, beaming as they picked out rhinestone earring and necklaces to complete their elegant look. By 1 pm almost 300 girls had come through, and my shift was over, but I decided to ask if I could stay longer and take a turn as a personal shopper.

I stood next to the podium with other personal shoppers as girls were called by number. I was introduced to my client, a beautiful 14 year-old girl with long curly hair and a shy smile who said she wanted a purple or red dress, and admitted she was nervous about attending her first prom. She didn’t know what size she was, but I could kinda figure it out. I chose a red dress from the rack and then another one caught her eye, a knee length gray ruched halter top. She tried it on in one the private dressing rooms set up in the giveaway hall. It fit beautifully, and she exclaimed

“This is the dress! This one!”

I agreed. It was totally perfect, and one she could wear to many things, not just the prom. Next stop, the shoe table, where my sweet niece-for-the-day thought she wanted black shoes until a pair of pale pink strap sandals caught her eye. Again a perfect and fashionable choice. A charcoal handbag, dangling but tasteful earrings and a necklace completed her ensemble, and then she was presented with a goodie bag full of beauty and bath products before heading over to hair and make-up.

Even though the guardian for her group home was in the main waiting area/beauty room, my charge asked me to stay with her as she got dolled up, chatting about her desires to be a pediatrician (her favorite subjects are math and science), Twilight, The Hunger Games, and Vampire Diaries; singing one of her favorite rap songs to me, sharing the head set of her CD player so I could listen along, talking about hair and make-up. When she was all glammed up, her long tresses styled with a curling iron, and just the barest amount of make up on her slightly freckled face, she nearly cried when I said goodbye. It was all I could do to hold back tears myself, and once I was on the escalator and moving through the clots of perky cheerleaders and their perfect families, I started to sob.

23 Responses to "Making Prom Happen for Foster Care Girls"
masaccio | Sunday March 25, 2012 04:56 pm 1

That is fabulous! Good news in the midst of the troubles of the moment. I hope every one of them had a great time at their Prom.

dakine01 | Sunday March 25, 2012 05:03 pm 2

What a wonderful day you had! Far too often, the children in foster care are just after thoughts. Kudos to the organizer, volunteers, and donaters all

Suzanne | Sunday March 25, 2012 05:16 pm 3

how wonderful lisa — good deeds provided outta love for kids. foster kids are fostered due to circumstances totally beyond their control. thank you for this reminder that there is good news in addition to the bad and thank you for your good deeds today. we need more people doing good deeds.

tweeted with thanks

Mauimom | Sunday March 25, 2012 06:02 pm 4

Thank you, Lisa, for bringing us this story. And thank you about a million times over for your caring and participation.

RevBev | Sunday March 25, 2012 06:07 pm 5

Such a great story…thank you, Lisa, for including us. Your client was a lucky lady to get you. Such generosity and kindness all around. I hope things go really well for her with her hopes and goals. Thanks, again.

gannonguckert | Sunday March 25, 2012 06:11 pm 6

What a sweet story! As a one-time mostly single dad whose little ones included one now-grown girl, I am so glad you women were there for these young ladies. Lord knows, I wouldn’t have been able to help.

More stories like this!

rosalind | Sunday March 25, 2012 06:11 pm 7

beautiful, lisa.

TalkingStick | Sunday March 25, 2012 06:19 pm 8

How beautiful. The world is made better by not only such experiences but also by those who write about them.

Sharkbabe | Sunday March 25, 2012 06:23 pm 9


JClausen | Sunday March 25, 2012 06:29 pm 10

“This is the dress! This one.”

It makes my heart sing with joy at both your experience as well as for sharing it with us in so eloquent a manner.


newdealfarmgrrrlll | Sunday March 25, 2012 06:39 pm 11

what an uplifting story! Thank you for sharing this … so wonderful that these girls had a chance for a pretty dress and personal styling.

Kathryn in MA | Sunday March 25, 2012 06:48 pm 12

Thank you all – this made me very happy.

Lisa Derrick | Sunday March 25, 2012 06:50 pm 13

For those of you who have the time and inclination, there are Court Appointed Special Advocate volunteer programs in over 1,000 communities in the U.S.

greenwarrior | Sunday March 25, 2012 06:54 pm 14

sweet! are you going to stay in touch with that 14 year old you bonded with?

Peterr | Sunday March 25, 2012 06:59 pm 15
In response to Lisa Derrick @ 13

*passing a tissue*

CASA volunteers are the unsung heroes of the court system, hands down and bar none. Moms have their lawyers, dads have their lawyers, and CASA exists so that the kids have someone whose only concern — whose ONLY concern! — is “what is in the best interest of the kid?”.

This is a great post, Lisa, and if people are moved by it, they should look for the CASA people around their area. This is a nationwide effort, and I’ve yet to see a CASA group that doesn’t need more help.

rosalind | Sunday March 25, 2012 07:03 pm 16

during my temping years i found a black & white checked wool suit that fit me like a dream. i had never had a piece of clothing so well constructed or one that made me feel so good. when i was stepping out of the temp world i saw a flyer for a “dress for success” clothing drive, a program that helps women transitioning into the workforce with their first “work clothes”.

when i handed over my suit, i felt like i was handing a woman her super hero outfit.

tejanarusa | Sunday March 25, 2012 07:06 pm 17

Great post, Lisa. So kind of you to do this.
And glad to see CASA highlighted…they do a great job; very active here in San Antonio.

There was or will be a similar donated dress “shopping” event here, too; not sure if it’s for foster kids or a more general group of kids too poor to buy their own dresses, but I saw something about it just recently. We have a Dress for Success here, too…donated appropriate interview wear.

Lisa Derrick | Sunday March 25, 2012 07:10 pm 18
In response to greenwarrior @ 14

That’s not really part of the program. As much as I really liked her and was moved by her, it would have been inappropriate to stay in touch with her–there are issues of privacy for the the girls in the foster care program (they don’t tell us their last names or what group homes they are in, etc). Part of the Glamour Gowns experience for them is to learn that there are people who are nice and kind and supportive–the personal shoppers, hair and make up staff–with no end goal in sight (getting them to go to school, keep their area tidy, say please and thank you like in foster care; and the gnarlier things that may be the reason they are in foster care to begin with). I hope she will look back on Saturday and build on the experience to move through life with grace.

nycterrierist | Sunday March 25, 2012 07:17 pm 19

wonderful (wiping away a tear).
what a great project!

Lisa Derrick | Sunday March 25, 2012 07:20 pm 20
In response to tejanarusa @ 17

The hair and make-up team from Studio DNA who was there as the girls’ glam squad donate their services to Dress for Success events and women’s shelters, and the studio’s owners told me that they are starting a non-profit to do even more work in that direction, providing regular hair care and skin care for men and women in shelters and kids in foster care.

joelmael | Sunday March 25, 2012 07:45 pm 21
In response to Lisa Derrick @ 18

For me, this response/explanation so wraps a ribbon around a pure gift. No strings attached may be a new experience for some.

Teddy Partridge | Sunday March 25, 2012 08:18 pm 22

Wow. Just: wow.

vsmartee | Sunday March 25, 2012 10:10 pm 23

Wow I want to do it with you next year. It sounds beautiful and just one day of your time that can make such a lasting effect on someone else’s. Everyone remembers their prom, it should be something special.

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