Prom dresses, and the promise of a better life

Something wonderful happened recently for homeless kids in Miami-Dade County Public Schools (MDCPS), the fourth-largest district in the country and one that has more than 6,000 children documented as homeless or in transition.

Through the generous donations and efforts of many individuals and corporations, more than 60 of these high-school seniors were able to visit the Division of Student Services’ Project Up-Start’s Prom Project and select from racks of beautiful gowns, shoes, handbags and jewelry to wear to their proms.

Once this group of students was served, MDCPS opened up the Prom Project to other students hoping to attend their prom but without sufficient means to buy all the items they need for this important occasion.

The success of Project Prom 2015 made us determined to make it an even better effort next year; an opportunity to serve not just 60 kids, but also some of the thousands who are part of the homeless population, plus hundreds of others who need assistance. It will be a chance to serve not only young women who needed assistance with a prom, but also promising and deserving young men for whom we were not able to provide as many opportunities this year.

Perhaps even better than what happened for these kids is what happened for me. I had the pleasure and honor of doing something meaningful for others and of working with remarkable and selfless women — and yes, it was all women who made this project a success. Our group worked together to collect items, to sort through them and to press them so they would look their best; we moved racks and boxes and garment bags into donated space at the Doubletree Hotel and then set up a temporary boutique for the kids to have the full prom shopping experience

In the end, the students’ happiness and excitement magnified a hundredfold my joy and satisfaction.

As a volunteer since 1995 with the Guardian ad Litem Program, representing the best interests of children and serving as the eyes and ears of judges in cases of abuse and neglect, I have seen the difference that one person can make in the lives of so many. My enthusiasm and passion for my work with GAL has led me to open my eyes to other needs that can be easily filled.

The opportunities to serve others and to improve our community are limitless and can be as simple as volunteering with United Way’s Reading Pals program to read to children in pre-kindergarten classrooms in neighborhoods across Miami-Dade County or serving holiday meals at Chapman Partnership with your church, temple or social club; or completing 30 hours of training to become a Guardian ad Litem and representing the best interests of at-risk children in court during critical times in their lives.

Through our Prom Project, I have seen the importance of Project Up-Start’s work to identify students who may be homeless or in transition and helping to ensure a successful educational experience for these kids by working with parents, schools and the community. Our small success this year has encouraged me to think about Project Up-Start and what we can all do throughout the year to help ensure that these at-risk kids stay in school and can go on to lead productive and positive lives in our community.

Project Up-Start students and the families served can benefit from things like holding drives for the UpStart Shop of items like canned and nonperishable food items, school supplies, toiletries, personal hygiene items or new clothing/undergarments and socks. Donations can be made of tickets for sporting events, movies, museums and special events. Donations may be made of gift cards for stores like Target, Walmart, Sports Authority, Winn-Dixie or Publix. Financial contributions may be made to support MDCPS’s efforts through The Office of Community Engagement’s Foundation for New Education Initiatives, Inc., and specifying Project Up-Start.

I have volunteered with various non-profit organizations and on numerous projects in Miami and in Haiti for more than 20 years. My life and that of my family have been enriched beyond measure, and the only thing I’m left wanting is more time and money to contribute in service to others in our community.

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