HOLLYWOOD—As the high school prom night season approaches, the Assistance League of Los Angeles, in collaboration with the Los Angeles School District (LAUSD), hosted their 8th annual “Operation School Bell Prom Day” recently, an event providing free prom dresses and accessories to 80 homeless and low-income LAUSD high school girls.
Students were ushered into the pink balloon-decorated halls of the Assistance League headquarters and were paired with a volunteer. After a quick chat about color, size and preferences, the volunteer led the student to racks of prom dresses to find the perfect dress and then to a dressing room. If it wasn’t quite right, seamstresses were on hand to do alterations or another dress was chosen.
Next stop was picking out some baubles at a table full of jewelry and handbags followed by a session with a make-up artist and a hairdresser for an individualized prom night look.
“It’s just girl time,” said Darlie Encisco, a student from the East L.A. Performing Arts Magnet at Esteban E. Torres High School. “It’s fun for someone to give their time and do these things for us. I really appreciate what they are doing.”
Some of the students participating in the day’s event are living in shelters, motels and even cars, yet somehow manage to maintain their grades.
Tanya Mecado, an attendance counselor and homeless liaison at University High, said she was very pleased with the event.
“They don’t make it just, ‘Come pick up your dress.’ They make it a special day,” she said. “These are girls that are on track to graduating. They deserve a special day.”
The logistics for such an event are significant.
Ana Quintaro, the Special Populations/Community Outreach Counselor with the LAUSD Homeless Education Program was responsible for the scheduling of 80 girls from 20 different high schools to attend with the proper permission requirements in place.
“It’s unbelievable what she does,” said Linda Levine, a co-chair of the event.
For her part, Levine has spent most of the year with Operation School Bell volunteers collecting donations of dresses, accessories and services from corporations and individuals.
“We beg, borrow, but not steal to get all these things,” she said.
This year, the event was able to serve 10 more students and double the number of stylists from last year and Levine said she has plans for more growth.
“Next year, we’re hoping to move into [additional space in the building]. We’ll need donations for portable dressing rooms,” she said. “We’re hoping to dress at least 100 girls next year. That’s a wish and a hope.”
Josephine Bailey-McLein, a senior from University High, happily waited for a seamstress to raise the hem on her new dress.
“I think it’s really amazing. I know definitely for sure I probably wouldn’t have had a decent prom dress if not for this,” she said.
Volunteers from Operation School Bell—a program of the Assistance League of Los Angeles that provides new school clothing and other basic needs to nearly 5,000 underserved and at-risk children within the LAUSD—were joined by volunteers from the Hancock Park branch of the Needlework Guild of America (NGA).
Also on hand was celebrity fashion critic, Steven “Cojo” Cojocaru, who was there to cheer on the girls in their fashion choices.