Prom Project gives foster kids the full experience

Prom Project gives foster kids the full experience

For the past nine years, the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services’ Prom Project has made dreams come true for hundreds of high-school-age foster kids in Southeast Texas who might otherwise never attend one of the most memorable nights of their lives.

And this year was no different. With at least 600 dresses, thousands in donations from area businesses and a small army of volunteers, this year’s Prom Project ensured area foster kids would have a prom night to remember.

DFPS spokeswoman Shari Pulliam said the Saturday night, Feb. 22, prom night was a hit. “They were so excited,” Pulliam said of the 26 girls and boys who attended. “Every year they never know quite what to expect. The girls walk in and see the 600 dresses they get to choose from, and all the volunteers and people who are there to help them and make them feel so special that day. We had a really great turn-out.”

Each year, the girls and boys start their days apart, each with their own surprise awaiting them. For the girls, cosmetology students with the SETX Career Center in Silsbee descend upon them with fashion tips, new hairstyles and makeup at the Courtyard Cafe and Bakery in Groves. “This year we had 14 girls and 12 boys, all juniors and seniors that are in high school in the surrounding areas that are eligible to go to prom this year,” Pulliam said. “Everything they get at the event they keep — the dresses, the jewelry, the shoes. They pick out the dress and we pair them with a volunteer who’s there to help them like their own personal shopper to help them pick out a dress that looks good on them and then they pick out shoes, their jewelry (and) have their hair and makeup done. Then they head downstairs and get their picture professionally done by a Valero volunteer that is there who takes their picture, print it out and gives it to them in a frame as a keepsake for them to bring home.”

It seems the boys were in for just as much pampering as the girls. Their day began with a complimentary lunch at Buffalo Wild Wings, after which they received a free haircut compliments of Sport Clips and a dress shirt, tie and vest from Al’s Formal Wear paid for by the Port Arthur Community Partners. To top it off, the boys’ night culminated with a stylish trip behind the wheel of a Corvette of their choice driven by volunteers with the Tri-City Corvette Club.

“The Tri-City Corvette Club drove the boys down to the prom where the girls were anxiously awaiting their arrival outside, lining the road waiting for them to drive up,” Pulliam said.

Once the kids mingled a bit, it was time for dinner, and the Courtyard Cafe and Bakery was ready to oblige.

“We had roast and mashed potatoes and macaroni and cheese, green beans and hand- breaded chicken tenders, homemade cupcakes. It was so tasty,” Pulliam said. “We had a really great group of kids. They went into the kitchen asking where to put their plates, taking care of the food and telling Karen (the owner) how wonderful it tasted.”

A prom king and queen were then honored with crowns and a dance.

“That was voted on amongst themselves,” Pulliam said.

The original purpose of the Prom Project was to give foster kids who might not have the resources to buy a tuxedo or a thousand-dollar dress a chance to attend their high school proms in style.

 “That’s why we started this in the first place,” Pulliam said. “A lot of these kids would not be going to their high school prom because they don’t have the means. They didn’t have the dress. They didn’t have the certain tie. We also had corsages this year. That was new. They wouldn’t have the opportunity to go because they didn’t have the things they needed to go. And so, it’s really important for these kids to be able to come to an event like this, to get the things they need to go to their own prom. And if they choose not to go, they still have a prom experience that night.”

Pulliam said the number of high-school-aged foster kids who attended the Prom Project this year has gone down slightly from last year.

“Each year it varies from year to year depending on how many high school juniors and seniors we have in foster care,” Pulliam said.

“Right now we have more younger children in foster care than we do older children, so that number varies. We usually run 20 to 25 girls and 20 or 25 boys from year to year. But this year, we just have a low number of kids who were eligible, age-wise, to go — that’s juniors and seniors.”

Once they arrived, Pulliam said it was as if the kids had temporarily forgotten their home lives and the less-than-ideal circumstances which brought them all together.

“They have that one thing in common with each other. They’re all living with a foster family,” Pulliam said. “They’ve all been removed from their home for abuse and neglect or for whatever reason. So they can come there and be themselves, but they also have people they can talk to and relate to because they’re in the same situation.”

Next year’s Prom Project will likely be just as big, if not bigger, so Pulliam encouraged the Southeast Texas community to donate door prizes, dresses, makeup or just your time as a volunteer helping foster children. Pulliam encouraged volunteers to “come and work with our kids and get a feel for who they really are, what they’ve gone through and what they get to experience that day, and see the transformation.”