Seventeen year-old Samantha Russell, along with 14 of her peers from Booker T. Washington Senior High School, will be attending their senior prom for free this year.
The girls were surprised on Thursday to see that their school’s dance studio was transformed into a “store,” in which they could pick through two racks of prom dresses and tables filled with bedazzled headbands, assorted colored clutches and jewelery for the big night.
For the second year in a row, the non-profit PROMises Project, adorned young women with proper prom ensembles. As a special addition this year, all 15 participants also had their prom tickets paid for.
Sydney Sazant, 14, created the PROMises Project last year with help from her mother and father.
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Her father Neil Sazant said that as parents, they will slowly reduce their involvement, so that Sydney can take on the project and let it grow throughout the years.
“I think it’s a great program that sets an example for other girls and I think it exposes her to a different world and vice-versa,” Sazant said.
Sydney knew she wanted to get involved with the Overtown high school, as she visited frequently to watch her younger brother practice basketball on the Booker T. Washington courts.
Additionally, she was inspired by the Corsage Project, a Canadian non-profit run by her great aunt in Toronto, that has been providing young women and men with prom attire for the past 15 years.
“I think it’s important for the girls to be able to have the best senior prom that they can,” Sydney said. “Some of the girls’ life stories are really unbelievable.”
For Russell’s PROMises Project application, she submitted an inspiring essay about growing up in a single-parent home and being separated from her mother for some time. She said she wants to give back to her mom when she attends Alabama A&M next year.
In addition to writing an essay, the participants had to have a GPA higher than a 2.5 and had to have completed a multitude of community service hours.
On an application form, the girls specified their dress size, color and style preferences.
At the dress unveiling, the girls chose from a collection of three or four dresses each that were handpicked by Sazant and her mother according to what each girl dreamed her perfect prom dress would be. Most of the dresses were purchased from the Merchandise Mart with money that was raised through donations and fundraising efforts.
Russell, who is a cheerleader and a member of the National Honors Society, was the first to strut down the dance studio’s runway, fashioning a black two-piece gown.
“I think it’s really amazing how they come into the community,” Russell said. “They help girls that really deserve it but can’t really afford it.”
Keedra Mincey, 18, said she can’t wait for everyone to see her dress, but she wants to keep it a secret until May 15, when Booker T. Washington students will celebrate prom at the Newport Beach Hotel and Spa in Sunny Isles Beach. This year’s theme is “A Night at the Oscars.”
Principal William Aristide said that the PROMises project is a great opportunity for the students because they may not have the funds necessary to purchase the gowns.
“Just seeing the smiles on their faces is worth everything. These kids come from impoverished communities and tough neighborhoods,” Aristide said. “And I think for kids, when you look good, you feel good. It will make them feel positive about themselves.”