Helping Girls' Prom Dreams Come True
When 18-year-old Marisa West thinks back to her high school prom, her memories include "wearing rhinestone-studded high heels, a beautiful dress, and jewelry that sparkled in the dark." She remembers feeling like a young woman that night, as compared with "the girl who started high school as a freshman."
Two years ago, Marisa made national headlines because of her successful effort to help hundreds of girls in the New Orleans area enjoy the same feeling at their own proms–even though for most of them, buying dresses had become impossible in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
She wanted to help the girls forget about the hurricane and the flood and just be normal high school students for one night, and "lose themselves in the magic of dressing up."
Marisa initially organized friends and family to solicit 100 donated prom dresses to send to girls at one high school. Her efforts, however, turned into a national cause that drew donations from around the country. Eventually, 2,800 dresses filled her parents' Beltsville, Maryland, home.
"There was not one surface that was free," recalled Leathia West, Marisa's mother, who helped her daughter organize the program.
When all of the dresses had been collected, Bill Everett, warehouse manager of E.U. Services, a commercial printing and mailing company in Rockville, Maryland, volunteered to make the 20-hour drive to take the dresses to New Orleans. His employer paid for the trip.
Everett said that when the girls opened up the trailer truck and saw all the gowns, they burst out crying. "It was like Christmas," he recalled.
The photo above shows Marisa, seated on the floor and wearing a red gown, with prom dress recipients from the all-girls Cabrini High School, half of whose families lost everything they owned in the hurricane.