Prom Dress Drive to benefit children in foster care

Published 12:16 am Thursday, January 19, 2023

PORT NECHES — An idea that originated from an area high school student will be getting a signal boost from another this month when CavOilCade Queen Trisha Almaraz hosts a Prom Dress Drive to benefit children in the foster care system.

“It is prom season and I was thinking about foster care,” Almaraz said. “I have prom dresses I need to get rid of, and I know some girls who say they don’t want the dress but no one wants to buy them.”

Finding a way to help children in foster care is always a forethought for the Port Neches-Groves High senior who plans to attend Lamar University to become a social worker.

“I know how hard it is,” Almaraz said. “Every kid should be able to experience a prom, no matter the circumstances.”

Almaraz talked to her mother, who reached out and ultimately made contact with a program created 15 years ago by Shari Pulliam with the Department of Family Services.

Her daughter was a freshman and asked what the children in foster care did for prom.

“I started asking around and realized the kids weren’t attending prom because they didn’t have a dress to wear,” Pulliam said. “The state does not provide funding for that.”

So Pulliam asked community members to donate dresses, and that year collected 50. Since then, that number has grown to more than 2,000.

“Sometimes, even though we provided the dresses, they still weren’t going because they didn’t feel like they fit in,” Pulliam. “They might have just moved to that district or were feeling shy about it.”

And from there, a brand new idea came forth.

On Feb. 25, The Courtyard Café in Groves will transform into a salon and high school prom. Foster care children in high school across Region V attend the free event.

Girls arrive at 1 p.m. and are paired with a personal assistant to help them try on dresses. They have their hair and makeup done, are fitted in shoes and jewelry, and can shop for additional dresses for upcoming events.

Meanwhile, boys will meet at Buffalo Wild Wings for lunch before getting haircuts at Sports Clips. Then, Tri-City Corvette Club members allows them to pick out the corvette of their choice and chauffer them to The Courtyard for dinner and a dance.

“To see the excitement on those girls’ faces while they’re waiting on the boys to get there,” Pulliam said. “It actually is a Cinderella moment. I’ve seen the transformation.”

But, she added, it goes far past one night.

“They’re making new friends, gaining confidence, and they’re just able to see what this community is about and how much we are standing behind them and wishing them the best of luck,” she said. “That’s so important in this day in time, to let people know someone else cares about you.”

Almaraz touched on the excitement of attending prom.

“It’s one of the special moments in my life that I’ll remember,” she said. “It’s one night to get your hair and makeup done and feel like you’re the queen for the night.”

That, Pulliam said, is one of the highlights of the annual event at The Courtyard.

“They’re among their friends, and they get a total makeover,” she said. “And they get to keep everything from the night.”

Approximately 30 children attend each year, and the event includes goodie bags, a photo booth, a live DJ and a runway show.

“By the end of the night, they come up to me and say, ‘This is the best day of my life,’” Pulliam said. “I get tears in my eyes thinking about it. It’s a lot of work but it’s so rewarding to me.”

How to help

Almaraz’ drive is scheduled Jan. 28 from noon to 2 p.m. at the Texas Artist Museum, 3501 Cultural Center Drive in Port Arthur. For those that cannot attend the event, dresses can be dropped off at the facility Jan. 26-27 during the day.

Pulliam said anyone interested in volunteering to assist with the prom can do so by emailing shari.pulliam@dfps.texas.gov.

— Written by Monique Batson