Coral Gables

Seniors get a dress — and a part — in TLC network show

Prom is a very exciting event for young men and women as a closing ceremony to their high school careers.

This year’s formal dance just got even more special for 50 students around Miami.

Seniors from Miami Southridge and Edison High School as well as young women of the Mexican-American Council were selected to participate in a special taping of Say Yes to the Prom, a concept based on the popular Say Yes to the Dress show on the TLC network.

Adria Alpert Romm, creator of the Say Yes to the Prom program wanted to find a way to honor and empower young women around the country. The event will make stops in Los Angeles, Dallas, Maryland and New York, where more than 300 girls will be receiving the VIP treatment. The Miami episode will air May 20.

The girls were selected based on high educational performance, and the event is made to empower and applaud them for their overall academic success.

On Tuesday, they received a full day of pampering, including hair and makeup at the Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables.

TLC and Discovery Communications also gave each girl a laptop and partnered with Miami-Dade County Public Schools’ Foundation for New Education Initiatives to cover all prom ticket costs for students.

Sponsors like Sherri Hill donated about 3,000 dresses, and JCPenney contributed shoes and accessories for every girl. This year, the program added an educational component providing internship and scholarship opportunities for the young women. It also hosted guest speakers like Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Miami-Dade Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho, who gave words of encouragement to the teens.

Miami Dade College’s Provost of Academic and Student Affairs Dr. Lenore Rodicio made a special appearance and announced that all qualifying Say Yes to the Prom participants would receive MDC’s American Dream Scholarship, meaning free tuition for a two-year Associate’s Degree.

The show’s concept came to life five years ago when Romm, the chief human resources & global diversity officer for Discovery Communications, was looking to involve workers in community outreach. It started with the women in the company donating their prom dresses and then evolved to the partnership with the TLC network.

During the event each girl is paired with an employee or “prom consultant” guiding the girls throughout the day. They help them choose everything from the dress and earrings to the shoes and makeup and serve as mentors even after the experience is over. The day also includes one-on-one style sessions with the star of TLC’s Say Yes to the Dress: Atlanta — Monte Durham — and a red carpet runway reveal at the end.

“The biggest reward for myself and our employees is the fact that they never thought that anyone would do anything for them,” Romm said. “They never thought that they would have someone care enough to reward them and to mentor them and to build a relationship with them. The reaction of each of the students is a reward within itself.”

Zandra Laguna, a prom consultant and a supervisor at Discovery Communications, said it’s her second time participating in the event. She likes to help and found it personally rewarding that the company allowed her to take the day off from the office in exchange to volunteer and help others.

“I felt so happy to help someone who was in need and who really felt like a princess at the end of the day,” Laguna said. “I know what it’s like to not have enough and to have someone mentor you through a tough time and see you through that process. When the day ends, it’s rewarding for me to see the transformation in the girls.”

Maria Betancourt, a senior from Miami Southridge and a member of the Mexican-American Council, was one of the girls selected to partake in the event.

“I feel honored and fortunate to have been chosen because there were so many girls that applied and I was a chosen one,” Betancourt, 19, said. “My parents came over here to give me a better future, so I have to go higher and pursue my goals. I’m going to make them proud because they struggled and left everything behind just to see me rise.”

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