Dresses and Dreams
By Daiana Kucawca
Posted on April 18, 10
Danielle Mckye draped five dresses over one arm while balancing a purse in the other. Designer ball gowns by Gucci, Cache, Dolce & Gabbana. Danielle, 16, a senior at Killian High, chose a to-the-knee, spaghetti strap, dark purple Cache dress, along with a matching silver necklace and earrings with a hint of purple.
‘‘To me, prom is like a door closer to high school, to celebrate what you’ve been through and what you are going into,’’ said Mckye, who will attend the University of Central Florida’s engineering program. Mckye was one of 45 girls from nine South Florida high schools who last week gathered at the Village of Merrick Park in Coral Gables to pick out a gown, shoes and jewelry and get their hair and makeup done — for free. It was part of the third annual Project Prom Dress, a program sponsored by Women of Tomorrow, founded by television journalist Jennifer Valoppi and Telemundo President Don Browne to mentor at-risk girls.
The group collected more than 400 gently used gowns, bridesmaid dresses and accessories. ‘‘Some of these girls couldn’t afford a prom dress, and that’s how the project started,’’ said Pam Edwards, WOT program coordinator for Miami-Dade County Public Schools. ‘‘For me, I was going to prom, graduation was coming, and then I was going to go to college. It was like a stepping stone.’’ Edwards said WOT works with girls with aspirations, giving them guidance, confidence and skills for the real world. ‘‘There are so many women who want you to succeed and do better than your parents and want you to do good in life,’’ said Bradshaw, who is deciding between attending Florida Memorial University or Miami Dade College to study psychology.
Brenda Fernandez, 18, a senior at Coral Park High,began with WOT in her freshman year. ‘‘With all the women who have spoken to us and all the field trips we’ve done, it has changed my perspective on education and career choice,’’ Fernandez said. ‘‘I had decided I wanted to be a lawyer, but after I talked to them, I realized there were many focuses of law like advertising, communication and courts.’’ Fernandez chose a black strapless Arden B dress. ‘‘It makes me feel elegant.’’ Angeline Castillo, 18, a senior at Coral Gables High School, was beaming in her coral-colored, spaghetti-strapped Donna Karan gown. ‘‘It’s a pretty dress and I’m going to have a good time and feel pretty,’’ Castillo said. She joined WOT in her sophomore year. ‘‘Whenever we have the meeting, we talk. It’s all girls, so it’s nice to have someone you can relate to your age,’’ said Castillo, who will attend Mercy Hospital College of Nursing.
Before the girls tried on the dresses, they got an inspirational talk by Belkys Nerey, Emmy Award-winning anchor at WSVN-Fox 7. ‘‘Let these dresses not only remind you of your prom, but of the bright, beautiful futures if you stay on the right path to set the goal and believe,’’ she said. The excitement in the room was palpable. ‘‘One of my girls actually sat at the end of the table near the dresses so she could get her hands on them first,’’ said Cynthia Heart, Killian High School WOT coordinator. Danielle’s mentor, Terri Shikany, said WOT’s impact on the girls’ lives has been significant. ‘‘I can’t tell you what a wonderful position it is to watch these girls blossom from the time we take them on and meet them,’’ she said. ‘‘There are some who won’t even talk and don’t like themselves.’’ One of the girls Shikany mentored had to contend with her mother coming out of prison after 13 years. ‘‘Today she’s getting ready for her prom, and she’s a whole new person,’’ Shikany said.