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Prom Prep 101: Foster Girls Prepare for Prom

Hedi Gross and Rabbi Kipnes write:

Congregation Or Ami teamed up with other synagogues and churches to again run Prom Prep 101. The Calabasas synagogue, as part of its ongoing commitment to help children in the foster care system, has latched onto the Prom Prep 101 as an opportunity to give back. Young foster girls ages 15-18 came from the Department of Children and Family Services to take part in making their upcoming Prom a beautiful memory. Most of these girls were able to go to their proms because of Prom Prep.

Event chair Debbie Echt-Moxness reflected back on her heartfelt call for volunteers and dress donations. In response to Debbie’s congregation-wide mailing, Congregation Or Ami’s Mureau Road synagogue was overwhelmed with prom dresses – new and slightly used, jewelry, make up and endless offers to volunteer the day of the event. Debbie recalled that “We told people that Prom Prep 101 was a wonderful opportunity to get involved and make a difference in the lives of foster care kids. Our ‘goal’ was to help make 50 under-privileged girls feel beautiful and special, inside and out. I truly believe that we all come away from this experience feeling blessed and holy, for having made someone else feel more whole.”

At Prom Prep 101, volunteers signed in, put on name tags, and were given a tour through separate rooms of shoes, accessories, and professional make-up artists and hair stylists who volunteered their time and day off to help out. Calabasas Oaks resident Hedi Gross, who brought her daughter Molly, captured the overwhelming feeling of goodness: “Nothing prepared us for the emotion we felt when we walked into a room FILLED with beautiful gowns, broken down by size and color (most with tags still on them). It was AWESOME! To realize that each girl would feel like Cinderella for the day was simply beautiful…breath-taking. I looked around to see if I was the only one crying, but all the other mothers were wiping away tears at this awesome sight!”

Once the teenage girls began to arrive, Prom Prep 101 quickly went into motion. In the main sanctuary, the girls received beauty tips on what to wear, what not to wear and “the message that our clothing puts out into the world.” Escorts were assigned to their girls, blow dryers turned on, and make-up as applied. Calabasas cousins Molly Gross and Carly Feinstein popped into a “dress room” to help a girl named Melissa (not her real name). Although Melissa was already being ushered/hosted by a mother-daughter team, Melissa quickly took to my Molly and Carly. Before you knew it, Melissa had her own large team, primping and supporting her as she moved from beauty station to station. Melissa chose a gorgeous dress, picked out accessories, sat with the hair stylist and the make up artist. She looked divine. Walking down the aisle for the fashion show, Melissa appeared to walk on air.

Prom Prep 101 reminded participants, the foster girls and volunteers alike, about the power of kindness and compassion to transform lives. Hedi recalls that “It was quite obvious that Melissa was a girl with a light within. Eighteen years old girl, attending college next year, she adores track and field. Melissa is bright, happy, confident, and on a mission to help the world. I found it so moving that she was offering to my girls words of encouragement! She told them to “believe in yourself” and “you can do anything in this lifetime. Originally, I thought we would need to be offering words of encouragement to her. We went there believing we could help someone feel better about themselves (even for just one day) but in reality we left feeling like the lucky ones, simply for having met these girls.”

Professional photographer Jaime Rothstein volunteered to photograph Prom Prep 101. The Calabasas resident talked about the delightful experience photographing the teens. “It truly was an honor to be part of such a day that puts so many smiles on so many young girls’ faces. I am so proud and in awe of all who organized this day for being angels and giving so many girls their wings to fly and feel beautiful and confident and hopeful and loved. I know there is a God because of what I experienced today.”

Judaism teaches that mitzvah (commandment or ethical action) is found in the giving, but the true gift is in the warmth one feels long after the event is over. For more information about Prom Prep 101 or to volunteer for next year’s event, contact Or Ami president Susan Gould at (818) 880-4880 or [email protected]

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