The power of a prom dress

Houston, 23 Mar 2016

To ensure hundreds of students transitioning out of foster care are able to go to their upcoming school proms ‘dressed to the nines’, Macquarie staff in Houston came together to support The HAY Center and the young people participating in its life skills programs.

As part of a special prom shopping event in March, organised by The HAY Center, 200 young people shopped for clothing and accessories that they would otherwise not have an opportunity to purchase.

“Many foster youth would not even dream of attending their prom without the community support the prom shopping event receives,” says Mary Green, Director of Transitional Services at The HAY Center.

“There were 17-year-old girls who had no idea what size they were because they have never been shopping. Some have never worn a dress or make up and have never had someone tell them they look beautiful. Our young men arrived having never tried on a suit and with no idea how to tie a tie. They all left with a tailored suit, new shoes and ties - it was obvious that they were happy about how they looked and felt.”

Volunteers, including Macquarie staff, were paired with one young person each at the event to help them select from donated dresses, suits, jewellery, handbags and shoes. An on-site alteration service ensured that each selected outfit fit perfectly.

“My teen was in complete awe of the way she looked in her prom dress. She cried quite a few times throughout the experience because she was so overwhelmed with happiness and gratitude,” says Nikole Larios, a Macquarie staff member and volunteer personal shopper.

“Most teenagers shop for a prom dress because that’s just what happens when you’re a senior, but the young person I was paired up with wasn’t going to get that opportunity like the average teenage girl does. The shopping event was amazing for both of us and I’m sure she will be the belle of the ball.”

In the lead up to the shopping event, Houston staff also organised a clothing drive and a Project Runway-style event where five teams of four were given 15 minutes each to create prom outfits out of ‘trash’ bags, with duct tape and feathers as optional extras.

The fashionistas then walked the runway to show off their creations to an audience of 75 Macquarie employees and a panel of local judges.

“The teams scrambled to create a dress and present it uniquely. They did it with style and it was a lot of fun, while also raising awareness about The HAY Center and the ways they could get involved,” says Liz Schaffner, Project Runway event coordinator and a member of the community advisory committee in Macquarie’s Houston office.

“We like to focus on smaller organisations as we can have a greater impact. There are not many organisations supporting young people to transition out of foster care when they reach their eighteenth birthday so our support with these events helps young people locally, and that impact is tangible.”

The HAY Center works with 1,000 current and former foster youth every year through employment, education, housing and mental health learning programs.

Houston staff plan to continue their involvement with The HAY Center, including participating in a careers day where they will speak about their own career path, participate in mock interview workshops and help attendees shape their resumes.

Image caption: Houston staff dressed in their ‘trash’ bag prom outfits as part of Project Runway, a special awareness raising event organised for The HAY Center.