Her prom was practically perfect. She planned the entire event down to the hotel, food and invitations. On top of that, she wore a beautiful dress.
However, Linda Rivera, 24, a graduate student studying communications at Cal State Fullerton, realized later on that many girls are not able to experience prom due to financial circumstances.
Rivera’s positive experience with her own prom led her to develop “Heels on Wheels,” a program that aims to help build the self-esteem of young girls by providing them with prom essentials.
She came up with the program as part of a requirement toward her master’s degree, where students choose between writing a thesis or doing a project. Students who decide to do a project work with a nonprofit organization and volunteer their communication services.
“We have to take pretty much everything we’ve learned from the program and apply it in real-life settings,” Rivera said. “We do it for nonprofits because they’re usually the ones that can’t afford a communications coordinator or director to do press for them, or marketing or advertising.”
Although Rivera has volunteered before, her largest contribution has been the Heels on Wheels program, which facilitates donations for the YWCA Prom Project. YWCA is an organization in Orange County that works toward empowering women.
“The main goal is to help high school senior girls from low-income families attend the prom with pride, dignity and self-confidence,” said Diane Masseth-Jones, YWCA executive director.
Costs for attending the prom can total up to be as much as $1,000 and many high school girls from low-income families cannot afford to buy a prom dress, according to the YWCA Prom Project website.
Rivera is a full-time student, has a full-time job, an unpaid internship and works with the Heels on Wheels project for up to 15 hours a week.
Through the Facebook page that Rivera created, she and other volunteers communicate with users who want to donate a dress, shoes or accessories and set up a time and place to pick it up.
Rivera wanted to make it easy for people to donate so she could get more dresses to girls in need.
“She was so passionate about the Prom Project,” Masseth-Jones said. “It was her idea to get more dresses donated so more girls can enjoy a wider selection of prom dresses.”
As part of the Prom Project, the YWCA hosts Boutique Day every year to welcome the chosen girls and are given a “personal shopper” who helps them choose a dress with high heels and accessories.
Last year, the organization had 175 girls attend Boutique Day, but this year, they are hoping to bring in 200 girls from 25 different high schools in North Orange County.
On Boutique Day, professional stylists give the girls tips on how to do their makeup on prom day, practice on them and do their hair for free.
Rivera was also able to get a sponsorship from TONI & GUY, a hairdressing academy and salon, who will donate 30 hair appointments for the girls participating in Prom Project. The girls will be chosen through a raffle and be given an appointment card to use at the Costa Mesa location.
Besides empowering young girls, Heels on Wheels is also designed to give them confidence and happiness to be able to attend a major senior event they otherwise couldn’t afford.
“Prom is a big part of American culture that I feel like every senior in high school that wants to go should be able to go, regardless of their economic situation,” Rivera said.
Rivera said her prom experience was great because she was senior class president and on prom court. She planned her prom and could not imagine how it would feel not being able afford it, which is the reason she chose this organization for her program.
Rivera will be helping on Boutique Day, but after she will be choosing five girls to hold a focus group. She said she hopes to get qualitative data, and by holding the focus group, learn how to better approach the girls and how to raise their self-esteem.
The focus group, she hopes, will help her with the methodology and results for writing her literature review, an essential aspect of the project for her graduate degree.
Masseth-Jones said Rivera has already secured a half-page story in the Orange County Register and has gained a real-life experience organizing and getting people involved in a project that she is passionate about.
“Those are some things you learn in school, but you aren’t able to apply your skills until you get out into your community,” Masseth-Jones said.
Rivera said she has always been a hard-worker by performing multiple tasks for school, work or clubs.
“This is the first time that I’m actually working for charity, and I know I’m getting absolutely nothing out of this monetary wise, but I don’t even care because it feels so good to do good,” she said. “I know I’m going to see the fruit of my crops when I see those girls getting the dresses and how happy they’re going to be.”
Masseth-Jones said the project gives girls a chance to donate their dresses as a way to give back and help another girl achieve her dream.
Prom Project’s fifth annual Boutique Day will be on March 29 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the United Methodist Church of Fullerton.
To donate a dress, shoes or accessories, visit the Heels on Wheels Facebook page or PromProject.org.