Five years ago, Phyllis Ocean fitted a vision-impaired teenager in a maroon dress. She and another volunteer at The HAY Center Prom Readiness Event had helped the foster youth pick out the dress, silver shoes and accessories.
“She just lit up; she looked radiant,” Ocean recalled recently. “All teenagers deserve to have that special moment” of finding the perfect prom outfit.
Ocean, a member of the Houston Bar Association, was one of more than 90 volunteers who helped nearly 80 foster youth prepare their night-to-remember garb on March 27.
Volunteer groups also included the Houston Young Lawyers Association, Benefit Bettie and Bellaire United Methodist Church.
“We extend the most heart-felt thank you to every volunteer, staff member and donor who has contributed to this event for the past six years,” said Mary Green, director of The HAY Center. “Without their generosity, this event could never happen.”
The HAY Center converted its entire West Clay Street building into a mini store, complete with racks of donated dresses and suits, ties, shoes, undergarments and jewelry. Each foster youth was treated to a personal shopper to help select a full outfit.
“It’s especially good for girls in CPS (care) to feel beautiful, because of the trauma we’ve been through,” said Carla W., 18, casually sitting in a long shimmery dress 20 minutes after her find.
As the teens ate lunch, watched movies and received lessons in tie-tying and make-up, an office full of volunteer seamstresses like Ocean altered each item to fit just right.
The alterations aren’t always easy – as a handful of seamstresses tackle dozens of hems in five hours, but Ocean said she’ll be back next year “because of the kiddies.”
The HAY (Houston Alumni & Youth) Center is a public/private partnership under the umbrella of Harris County Resources for Children and Adults that helps older foster youth transition to independence. The program focuses on employment and education.
To learn more about The HAY Center and how you can help, visit The HAY Center page and website.