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.