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The Prom Project Helps High School Girls From Low-Income Families Find Their Dream Gowns

Written By: Deanna Nguyen
Photographed By: Luis Garcia Prom Project

Many high school girls dream about the perfect prom, but some don’t have the luxury of spending hundreds of dollars on dresses, shoes, hair and makeup. For 16-year-old Perla Gomez, who had only been living in America for less than a year, a true prom experience seemed out of reach. But when she signed up to volunteer for the YWCA of North Orange County, her newfound life received all the glitz and glam for one very special day.

In 2007, CEO of the YWCA of North Orange County Diane Masseth-Jones created the Prom Project to provide new and gently-used dresses for girls who come from low-income families. On a specific spring date, 25 girls are chosen as recipients of Boutique Day; they get to pick out their dresses, have their hair and makeup done by professionals, and dance, eat, drink and socialize like any other prom.

Gomez had many dreams—study hard in school and get a job to help her dad—but going to prom was one she didn’t expect to come true. But when she heard about the project from Masseth-Jones and Chairman Rosamaria Gomez-Amaro as a volunteer, she applied and was chosen as a recipient.

Boutique Day for Gomez was fun, but she couldn’t help but freak out a little with all of the dress options. “I came to get my dress but it was really hard because I looked at a lot of dresses and was like [gasp], ‘Oh my god!’” Gomez recalled.

The dress she ended up choosing was a bright orange quinceañera gown. Throughout the day, Gomez enjoyed every aspect. She couldn’t help but compare the dance party to the ones back home in Mexico.

That being said, she passed along word about the Prom Project to her relatives. “I have my two cousins; they don’t have a lot of opportunities, so they decided it would be a really good opportunity for them because they can’t have parties like this.”

The YWCA of North Orange County still means a lot to Gomez. To her, they’re an organization of opportunities. “They [taught] me a lot of things—I learned more English because when I came, I didn’t speak any English and I tried to speak. They helped me.”

Prom goes beyond borders, and for Gomez, she transformed into a more beautiful, stronger version of herself that would echo in other young girls like her.

Native Knowledge: The YWCA of North Orange County reaches out to over 250 high school counselors across all of Orange County to get the word out about the Prom Project. Counselors discreetly pass on the information to girls who might be embarrassed about revealing their socio-economic status.

YWCA of North Orange County
215 E Commonwealth Ave
Fullerton, CA 92832
714.871.4488