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Patricia Graham Patricia Graham

Williamsburg Belles Get Their Ball

The young ladies of Juan Morel Campos Secondary School (JMCSS) were able to feel like princesses when they participated in the fourth annual “Belle of the Ball”, a prom dress giveaway organized by Tommy Hilfiger.

“The experience made me feel like a princes,” said Ashley Pacheco, one of the eleven students that received beautiful dresses for her upcoming prom and graduation.

JMCSS’s Patricia Graham went above and beyond for her students when she called different programs to help buy prom dresses, garments that, while essential for any girl, can cost up to $500. Fortunately, Tommy Hilfiger answered the call and provided dresses, shoes, accessories and make-up. Hosted by the Tommy Hilfiger Corporate Foundation and the Retail Store Operations group, “Belle of the Ball” was started by Betsy Hilfiger in 2010 and inspired by the movie 27 dresses. Over 300 slightly worn dresses were donated to the program and 15 Hilfiger employees volunteered to help the young ladies select and coordinate their new outfits. “We were so happy that the girls were able to participate in the program,” said Hilfiger’s coordinator Catherine Walsh.

According to the recent national survey released by Visa Inc., the expenses of a high school prom have increased five percent in the nation. The national cost of the 2013 prom is now $1,139, an amount way beyond the budget of JMCSS students, especially those from single parent households like Ashley.

“Every year we’ve watched our students participate in proms and graduations and see how important those events are to them,” said Principal Eric Fraser. “We also see many families and students struggle to get the needed attire to participate in these events. We’re lucky to have people like Miss Graham and Tommy Hilfiger that put on events like this”.

But it wasn’t luck that motivated Graham. “I know these girls, and I know their stories,” she said. “When I saw these girls with their dresses, it made me feel happy”.

High School seniors Victoria Hernandez and twin sister Veronica were overwhelmed with joy when they walked in Hilfiger’s North America Headquarters and witnessed the great selection of outfits, accessories and shoes. “I was so happy that I started crying and my crying made the volunteers cry too,” said Veronica. Victoria, who did not want to burden her family, had even decided she would not attend the prom at all unless she could find a job and pay for her own dress. “Not going was one of my options, even though I wanted to go to the prom,” said Victoria. “We’re lucky that people in the school care.”

Like Victoria, Jovanna Robinson had plans to pay for her prom and graduation outfits. But she knows that obtaining a job is not easy. “I was planning to work for my dress. I would find a job and be thankful for the job that I got,” she said. But for now, all Jovanna and the girls have to do is enjoy their youth and have a great party.

Next year, Graham promised that she would advocate for other female students to participate in the prom dress giveaway. “I now have my foot in the door to help these girls in need get their dresses,” she said. “Next year I hope to help more girls participate in these programs.”

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