Dress Giveaway Helps Poor Kids Achieve Prom

The high-school prom is a costly American rite of passage. Most kids consider it a must, but prom is out of reach for many students from poor families. Recently, the Assistance League of Los Angeles held its annual prom dress giveaway, a reward to girls from poor or homeless families for their high academic achievement despite the odds. It's not the apex of their lives; it's a payoff for their hard work and a gentle encouragement to stick to their goals. NPR's Karen Grigsby Bates attended the giveaway.

Copyright © 2011 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

SCOTT SIMON, host:

It's the season for the prom, a ritual that seems to get more expensive each year. NPR's Karen Grigsby Bates recently visited a group of young ladies in Southern California who were getting ready for their Cinderella moment courtesy of some real-life fairy godmothers.

KAREN GRIGSBY BATES: This huge, high-ceilinged room is lined with fancy dresses and crammed with excited girls and their adult stylists.

Unidentified Woman #1: That necklace is great.

BATES: Most weeks, this dressing room at the Assistance League of Southern California is filled with low-income, elementary school-aged children. They come to be fitted with free clothes and shoes, courtesy of a local nonprofit. But for one special day each year, it's all about prom.

Ms. ANDY GOODMAN (Assistance League of Southern California): My name is Andy Goodman, and we're at Operation School Bell in Hollywood.

BATES: And, says Goodman, while the dresses may look like mere special event clothes, they're really much more than that. They're rewards for girls who have excelled, despite extraordinary challenges.

Ms. GOODMAN: A lot of the girls actually are homeless, but they're very high-achieving students. And I know I met a woman that came in and - she came in in sweat pants. That's all she had. And we gave her a prom dress. And we gave her some other clothes, too, because we do provide school clothing here. And she was going to Long Beach State next year.

BATES: Another volunteer turns and welcomes Angelica Hernandez, clad in jeans and T-shirt. Then introduces her to one of the many well-heeled Assistance League volunteers.

Unidentified Woman #2: This is Perri. She's going to be working with you.

Ms. ANGELICA HERNANDEZ: OK. Sounds good. Hello.

Ms. PERRI KRANSDORF (Volunteer, Assistance League of Southern California): Hi, Angie. I'm Perri.

Ms. HERNANDEZ: Nice to meet you.

Ms. KRANSDORF: It's my pleasure. What school are you at?

Ms. HERNANDEZ: South Gate High School.

Ms. KRANSDORF: OK. OK. Let's find you a dress for prom.

BATES: While she's changing, Perri Kransdorf explains the dress is just part of the preparation.

Ms. KRANSDORF: They come in. They get a dress. They get shoes, a shawl, a handbag, jewelry, nail polish, makeup. So once they leave here, they're ready to go to prom.

BATES: The dresses come from different sources: socialites who can't wear the same thing twice, manufacturers, designers. They look fresh and new and current.

Sometimes the match between girl and dress is love at first sight. Tiny Emily Eta would have drowned in a floor-length gown. She emerged from the fitting room in a strapless cocktail dress that was girly and glamorous.

Ms. EMILY ETA: When I went on the rack, there wasn't really any long dresses. But the person who was helping me out, she just gave me this dress, and it's just, like, really pretty.

BATES: It's hard to say who's more tickled: the girls with their new dresses carefully draped over their arms, or the volunteers, who are just beaming.

Angelica Hernandez plans to study biology at Cal State's Merced campus in the fall. She's decided on a frosty aquamarine satin gown that makes her skin glow. The ladies approve.

Unidentified Woman #3: It's gorgeous on you. That color's gorgeous on you.

BATES: And as Angelica leaves, the next young lady begins her search for the perfect dress.

Unidentified Woman #4: OK. I need four dressers, please.

BATES: Karen Grigsby Bates, NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

SIMON: This is NPR News.

Copyright © 2011 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.