High school senior Nathalie Cortez takes a selfie with a volunteer makeup artist after getting her makeup done during Operation School Bell Prom Day at Emerson College Los Angeles. Photo/Daryl Paranada
By Benjamin Crosby ’19
High school senior Angelina Gamez didn’t think that she could afford to go to prom, but Operation School Bell (OSB) Prom Day, a program of the Assistance League Los Angeles held at and co-sponsored by Emerson College LA, provided her with that opportunity.
Thanks to the program, Gamez and more than 220 homeless and low-income teens representing nearly 60 Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) high schools were given the chance to pick out prom dresses, shoes, accessories, and makeup. The students also received custom fittings from volunteer tailors, guidance from stylist volunteers, and help from celebrity style influencers who assisted them in picking out the perfect look for their dream prom night for free.
“This is a great opportunity that was given to me, and I feel really blessed to be here and have all this support, especially on a big day for me such as prom,” said Gamez, who lives in a single-parent home. “My mom has so many things to pay like her car note, the rent, and this is giving myself and her a hand.”
This year, more than 17,000 LAUSD students have experienced homelessness, according to Monica Santana with the LAUSD’s Homeless Education Program. Events like OSB Prom Day help give underserved students the external support they need to elevate their educational experience. This is the fourth year in a row Emerson has sponsored the event.
“Thank God for Emerson College, because they sponsor this amazing event, give us space, give us our dressing rooms, and provide so much support,” said alumna Linda Levine ’77, co-chair of the program. “This program has grown from 38 girls to now 220 over two days, and they wouldn’t be able to go to their prom without this special day.”
One of the girls picking out dresses was Nathalie Cortez of Maywood Center for Enriched Studies. Cortez lives in a single-parent household and her mother supports the family by working in a factory. Cortez says she plans to attend community college after graduation and transfer to UCLA to get a degree in criminology. Like all the students who attended the event, Cortez is excelling in school and on track to graduate.
“I would have struggled because I wouldn’t have had the help to get my dress,” said Cortez, who walked in wanting a beige dress but fell in love with a sparkling midnight blue gown. “My mom is a single mother and I’m the third child. We usually struggle, so this was a dream of mine.”
Cortez was able to pick out beauty products from brands such as FabFitFun, Kylie Cosmetics, and NYX Cosmetics, among others. Cydnee Black, a style influencer, volunteered at the event and helped offer tips to Cortez and other seniors in preparation of their big day.
“Prom is an experience they will have forever, and if it’s an experience I can help make better for anyone in any way, then I love doing it,” said Black. “It’s small things that overall help impact people’s self-esteem and confidence.”
Caroline Edwards ’14, a creative director at ICM Partners, was also a volunteer at this year’s event. ICM Community Partners Foundation, along with McDonald’s—Southern California Region, was one of the many key sponsors of this year’s program.
“Assistance League is a grant partner at ICM, and we give them a grant every year that pays for Prom Day, so this is sort of our contribution toward the organization, and it was such an amazing marriage once we realized they were doing it at Emerson,” said Edwards, who volunteered at the event for the second year in a row. “It’s such a great program to see the girls go through and how happy it makes them.”
Among the many students Edwards helped was Winter Denem, a senior at Hamilton High School. For students like Denem, prom is both an exciting and stressful time. Picking out a dress and other prom wear was made easier thanks to OSB Prom Day.
“The best part of this day for us is finding a dress and looking like glamorous princesses,” said Denem. “Keep doing this program because you are helping a lot of kids and their parents financially.”
Several media outlets featured Emerson College in their coverage of OSB Prom Day, including the local Fox, PBS, Telemundo, and NBC affiliates. Check out this package from ABC.