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Fordham RETC and Operation Prom Give Bronx-area Teens a Reason to Smile


The average high school prom is no longer held at the school gym, which means a typical dress for the event has also stepped up in style and price. A survey conducted by the Hearst Company in 2009 found that teens spent an average of $220 on a dress and nearly $900 on the total prom experience.

It can’t be easy for teens from economically depressed communities. But thanks to staff from Fordham University’s 21st Century Community Learning Center, Bronx-area high school seniors had some help finding the perfect dress for next to nothing.

Staff and volunteers from Fordham’s RETC – Center for Professional Center, which operates the 21st Century Community Learning Center, took 23 of their students (some pictured above) to Operation Prom, an event that gave young women access used prom gowns, cosmetics and accessories. The event, held at Brooklyn’s Borough Hall on April 17, was organized by the New York City chapter of the WGIRLS, a national nonprofit organization in cooperation with Operation Fairy Dust.

High-end designers, such as Oscar de la Renta, donated hundreds of dresses. Even reality show star Kim Kardashian gave a dress to the cause. The event drew more than 2,200 teens.

“It was really a wonderful way to end the school year for our students,” said Holly Lemanowicz, a rising junior at Fordham College at Rose Hill, who volunteers at the RETC. “It was special because both the girls and us chaperones were able to talk about how amazing going to the prom is and how it serves as a last hurrah to end senior year.”

And since the cost for attending prom is expensive, Lemanowicz added, receiving a prom gown at no cost surely provided the teens with relief.

“Every student from our program walked away with a beautiful dress and I can honestly say that I have never seen any of them happier.”

Theresa R. Lupo, senior professional developer for Fordham’s RETC, agreed.

“They were ecstatic,” she said. “It was an amazing experience for us all.”

Established through a $2.4 million grant from the New York State Department of Education in 2008, the 21st Century Community Learning Center allows middle and high school students to recover school credits while training their parents and other area adults in technology skills needed in the workforce.

-Gina Vergel


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