Eighty-five teenage girls in the LA Unified School District's Homeless Education Program who never thought they would be able to attend prom with their high school friends this spring now have a gown and accessories for the crowning event of their senior year.
"I feel like it symbolizes everything I've worked for," said Deserie Villa, a senior at Eagle Rock High School. "I really wanted to go to prom, but I didn't know how I'd even pay for my dress or get anything for it. It was hard to think, 'Oh, maybe I'm not going to go to prom.'"
When these girls showed up at the Emerson College campus in Hollywood, many were shy, hiding in their hoodies.
But after an hour of getting makeovers and finding the perfect tailored gown and accessories to match -- all free of charge -- they left "feeling like a million bucks, looking like Rihanna or Jennifer Lopez," according to Melanie Merians, CEO of Assistance League of Los Angeles.
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"They have such confidence and pride," said Merians. "It's so important for a child who's been homeless."
Operation School Bell Prom Day is in its eighth year, but this was the first time the Assistance League was able to take over such a large space. After seven years in the Assistance League of Los Angeles' "cramped" offices, Prom Day upgraded this year to Emerson College.
The number of dressing rooms tripled this year, allowing more girls to come through the door at a time and find the dress of their dreams. The bigger room allowed the young women to get their dresses custom fitted and sit down for hair and makeup -- the full star treatment.
The girls who participated in the Prom Day have been keeping their grades up in school despite emotional and financial hardship, and many have already received college acceptances. All of them are on track to graduate this spring, said Darin Dusan of the Assistance League of Los Angeles.
"We applaud these young women for staying in school," said Merians. She called the day a "dream come true" after watching several girls burst into tears at seeing themselves in an evening gown.
Companies, dressmakers and individuals donated dresses and accessories for Prom Day. Cash donations allowed the Assistance League to fill in the gaps for certain shoe sizes and styles. Throughout the rest of the year, the Assistance League helps 8,000 LAUSD children by providing them with brand-new books, clothing, backpacks and other necessities.
The Los Angeles Unified School District currently has around 14,000 students who are homeless, according to Dusan.
To get involved with the Assistance League of Los Angeles, click here.