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Students in Need Pick out Prom Dresses at Emerson LA

Hailley Fenton is going to prom wearing a strapless sparkly emerald green dress—and she couldn’t be more thrilled.

“I’m excited to fit in with everyone else at my school and have something really nice,” said Fenton, an aspiring photographer who attends Taft Charter High School.  “Everyone at school is super rich, but I don’t have a lot of stuff.”

High school senior Hailley Fenton said she loved getting her makeup done and was going for an old couture look. Photo/Daryl Paranada

Fenton was one of 200 girls from 16 Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) schools who had the opportunity to pick out free prom dresses and get their makeup done during Operation School Bell Prom Day, a two-day event held at Emerson College Los Angeles. All the girls who participated in the event have maintained good grades while managing difficult circumstances such as homelessness or fleeing dangerous home environments.

“I’m happy to get the opportunity just like the other girls,” said Fenton, who lives in her grandfather’s garage with her mother. “Everyone here has done something to experience the joy of getting a prom dress.”

This is the third year in a row that the College has sponsored the event.

“Emerson Los Angeles is proud to host this inspiring event on our campus,” said Allison Sampson, vice president and executive director of Emerson LA. “Over the past three years of our sponsorship, our students have given back to the community by volunteering to support these determined young women.”

Lizbeth Matamoros poses with a prom dress at Emerson College Los Angeles. She said she’d be just the third person in her family to graduate high school. Photo/Daryl Paranada

High school seniors like Lizbeth Matamoros were able to browse through racks of prom dresses, pick out shoes, handbags, shawls, and jewelry thanks to year-round contributions from volunteers, donors, and sponsors of the Assistance League of Los Angeles’s Operation School Bell program.

“I feel really accomplished because not a lot of people in my family graduated high school,” said Matamoros, who wants to become a psychologist one day to help people like her autistic 6-year-old brother.

The event was co-chaired by Wendy Silver and Linda Levine ‘77. Even though it rained throughout both days of the event, Levine said it didn’t dampen anyone’s spirit.

“I tell everyone that this is my favorite day of the year,” said Levine. “I’m very connected as an alumna to Emerson and I am so happy to have this event at Emerson LA. I love having the support of my fellow Emersonians.”

Alumna Linda Levine has co-chaired Operation School Bell Prom Day for the past several years. Photo/Daryl Paranada

Approximately 18,000 homeless students have been identified in the LAUSD. Programs like Prom Day help a few of those students feel special. All of the girls who participated in the program are on track to graduate, including Dynesha Swann.

“I’m excited because it’s been a rough path,” said the John Marshall High School senior. “I wasn’t sure I was going to make it.”

Swann moved to LA on her own from Maryland last fall to start over after her cousin passed away, among other hardships. She said dressing up was a new experience for her.

“I’ve never been into dresses and having makeup has never been my typical thing,” said Swann, who hopes to major in sports medicine one day. “Everything is new.”

Dynesha Swann takes a look at her dress and jewelry in a mirror at Operation School Bell Prom Day, an annual two-day event co-sponsored by Emerson College Los Angeles. Photo/Daryl Paranada

Emerson LA volunteers like Cat Yamashita ’18 felt inspired by the students. She said she passed by the Bordy Media Conference Center, where the event was held, and asked volunteers what was happening. When she found out what the event was about, she wanted to do her part.

“I think it’s really cool that these girls will get to experience their prom,” said Yamashita, one of a handful of students who volunteered for the event. “Everyone should be able to take part regardless of their money situation, and I hope they have fun.”

Fenton tried on five different dresses before settling on the green one, which she picked because it complements her blue-gray eyes. She said her favorite part of the day was getting her makeup done.

“I’m just really happy to be here,” she said. “I feel like a supermodel.”

Several news outlets were at Operation School Bell Prom Day covering the event, including the LA Daily News, KTLA, and NBC LA.

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