When Prom Becomes a Life-Changing Experience

Mission Moment

For typical high school students, high school prom is an expected rite of passage, but that wasn’t the case with two young ladies who live in our community. Going to prom was something both of them dreamed about, but neither thought it could ever happen because of their housing situation.

One of the girls lives with her mother. The other has no mother or father, so she lives with her aunt and three cousins. Both girls currently live in diversion shelter housing, part of a CHD program that recognizes it is more effective—and more cost-effective—to divert families from shelter in the first place than it is to get them out of shelter once they are there.

These two young ladies come from different worlds. They live in different towns and went to different high schools. Their proms were on different weekends. But thanks to CHD, they have something wonderful in common: they went to prom!

How did the topic of prom even come up? It was just something each girl mentioned during a regular discussion with CHD staff. “When I was checking in with the girls, each separately brought up prom during our conversation,” said Jessica Moynahan, Children Service Coordinator for CHD Diversion Shelter and Housing Program. “It was clear to me that neither saw prom as a possibility, so I asked, is this something you want to be part of? They both said yes.”

Jessica started to think about what would need to happen for these girls to attend their proms. “Mostly they’d need a dress and shoes and transportation,” she thought. “I started to realize that it could happen—so I set out to make it happen. I went to Jane Banks, our director, and pitched my idea to her. She was on board right away. The staff helped, too. Together we made it possible for each of these girls to get her dress, shoes, make up, accessories, hair, corsages, and even her prom ticket.”

For one of these girls, who is originally from Haiti, it had been her dream to attend prom. “We spoiled her and it was well deserved,” Jessica explained. “This is a girl who had experienced bullying in school, but she persevered. Her courage and resilience are amazing. The staff at CHD looks at her with such admiration. Despite her difficult circumstances and the trauma she experienced, she is always kind to others and possesses an amazing spirit.”

CHD staff transported the girl to her high school for Promenade, a pre-prom event. One by one, they walk proudly across the school stage for parents, teachers and administrators to admire. It’s a time to show off, honestly, and everyone loves it. Staff also delivered her aunt and three cousins, who were also dressed up. After Promenade, staff took the girl to prom and delivered her safely inside. She walked into the venue with her head held high. She looked absolutely stunning.

Jessica recalled what happened later, when she went to pick up the girl and bring her back to the CHD diversion shelter housing site. “The school principal noticed me and motioned for me to come quickly,” Jessica said. “I asked, ‘What is it? What’s going on?’ and the principal replied, ‘Something wonderful!’ I looked and there was she was, out on the dance floor dancing and smiling and beaming. People are still talking at school about how beautiful she looked that night. This was an experience that changed her. CHD says our work is positively life changing. Well, this was a perfect example. She was very thankful to be able to go to prom and felt ‘very blessed’ to use her own words.”

I said this was a story about two girls who went to prom. The other girl lived in shelter with her mother. She also mentioned to Jessica that she dreamed about going to prom, but really only imagined it. So together with CHD staff, Jessica worked to make that happen. As a way to help improve the bond between this girl and her mother, CHD got the bus passes so the two could spend time together outside of shelter and shop for prom essentials. They were able to get everything she needed.

A few days following the prom, Jessica talked to the girl’s mom. She said her daughter arrived home dancing and laughing and telling stories about what a great experience she had. Both the girl and her mom texted Jessica to express their thanks. “The prom was a fun experience and I am very grateful for the opportunity and for the help from CHD that gave me great memories,” the girl’s text read. The girl and her mom also thanked Jessica in person, next time they saw her.

“Despite their temporary situations, these young ladies were able to participate in an event that is meaningful to practically every teen,” said Moynahan. “Prom happens once in a lifetime and should not be missed—and it wasn’t missed because CHD ensured these kids had what they needed to take part in this time-honored rite of passage. Can you imagine the impact not going would have had on these kids who already are experiencing emotional distress because of their housing situation?”

Fortunately, we don’t need to image that. Instead, we can celebrate two girls and their positively life changing experience.

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