BY LIOR HAYKEEN
On an April afternoon 102 young girls walked down the red carpet, decked out in formal prom gowns, jewelry, make up, and shoes to match, friends and family cheering them on.
It is the 12th consecutive year that the San Fernando Valley Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS), with the help of dozens of dedicated volunteers from various organizations, is making the dream of a perfect prom reality for high school girls living in foster care.
Upon their arrival at Valley Beth Shalom in Encino on the morning of April 10, the girls were directed to one of the many volunteering professional hair stylists, and then to professional makeup artists to be prepped for the prom-like party that took place later in the afternoon. After their hair and makeup was done, the girls browsed through hundreds of dresses, accessories and pairs of shoes that were donated by companies such as OPI, Marshalls and KOHLS, as well as private individuals.
“These girls go through so much and move around a lot,” said Lovette Panthier, DCFS supervisor and program coordinator. “Most of them don’t get the chance to attend their prom. The idea is to give the girls an opportunity to go to the prom and feel like a princess. It’s all those little things that many take for granted that make this day so special.”
Panthier’s colleagues said that she is the brain and the heart behind this event. She works for months to make this day possible, and every year, aspires to make the event bigger and bring a smile to the faces of more girls.
Many of the girls seemed uncomfortable and perhaps hesitant to participate in the event at first. One girl sitting in front of a makeup artist had a vacant, apathetic look on her face, as if she only showed up under her foster-care parents’ pressure. Slowly, however, as the girls were pampered by dozens of genuinely enthusiastic professionals who showed interest in them, the girls transformed from timid teenagers to confident and glowing young women. By the time the girls had to pick their shoes, they were socializing with one another, trading fashion advice, and smiling broadly.
“We make them beautiful on the outside, and make them feel beautiful on the inside,” said Randi Simenhoff, social action coordinator of Valley Beth Shalom.
At the end of the day, the girls attended a prom-like reception, during which each of them walked down a red carpet in her new gown, accompanied by a male escort, followed by a small ceremony and dinner. As they walked down the carpet, seemingly overwhelmed by the flashing lights of the cameras and the thunderous applause of their families and friends, you could see belief twinkling in their eyes. Belief in themselves and in the good of the people around them. Belief that people care. And belief that they can grow into young women with bright futures.
To see more photos of Prom Prep, check out the Gathering page in the June-July issue of TRIBE magazine on newsstands May 19.