As a member of the Bay Area Chapter of Hmong Women Today, Louansee Moua wants to make sure that every high school girl that attends the organization’s Project Prom on Saturday in Merced will not leave empty-handed.
“We don’t want anyone to leave without the perfect dress,” said Moua, who is also the Chair of this year’s event. “Prom is a milestone in life, so this is just something we can do for the community and for the girls whose families may not necessarily have the money to fork out hundreds of dollars for a prom dress. This gives them the opportunity to go to prom and to make those memories.”
Hosted by the Bay Area Chapter of Hmong Women Today, Moua said that last year over 300 girls attended the prom dress giveaway, one of which was a girl who came with her father. Although Moua recalled this girl as being more of a tomboy, the girl told Moua that she still wanted to go to prom and to find the perfect dress.
“She came out crying and told me she just couldn’t find a dress so I asked one of our volunteers to help her. I told her that I don’t care if it takes one hour, two hours or all day, we are going to find her a dress,” said Moua. “Thirty minutes later she came out laughing and gave me hug saying that she found the perfect dress.
“These are the kinds of stories we experience every year,” added Moua.
This year’s event will feature approximately 2,000 prom dresses, including 500 to 600 brand new dresses from local boutiques such as Elegant Lace Bridal and Tuxedo, Trudys Brides and Bella Bridesmaids among others, at absolutely no cost to any student with a valid photo ID.
“We have a lot of dresses to give away, so we hope we get lots and lots of girls,” said Moua.
Prom dresses will be given away on a first come, first served basis and each girl will receive help finding their perfect dress from a number of volunteers. Moua said that despite the fact that previous events have had girls lining up as early as 6 a.m., there will be plenty of dresses for everyone no matter what time they arrive.
“We don’t want girls to be deterred if they can’t get there till 12 p.m. There will be plenty of dresses,” said Moua.
Although this will be the second year Project Prom will be presented by the Bay Area Chapter of Hmong Women Today, the event started out with the City of San Jose more than a decade ago according to Moua, who said that it was an event spearheaded by former Vice Mayor Madison Nguyen. Moua was Nguyen’s chief of staff.
“With the economic downturn at the time and with the recession we were out at community meetings around prom time and parents would tell us that their children wouldn’t be able to go to prom or homecoming because they couldn’t make ends meet,” said Moua. “So we thought: why don’t we start collecting dresses?”
Moua said that in the first year, they were able to collect 500 brand new and gently used prom dresses from local boutiques and residents. At the last event in San Jose, the team was able to collect 5,000 dresses for the 2,000 girls who attended.
“When she [Nguyen] termed out of office, people still were calling me to come pick up their dresses,” said Moua. “So I went to my friends in our Hmong social group and last year we got together with Councilmember Tony Madrigal in Modesto to bring the event to the Central Valley.”
Moua said that any dresses that do not get claimed during Project Prom on Saturday will be available after the event for girls to come back and take as many dresses as they want. After the “free-for-all,” remaining dresses will be donated to local schools for their theater programs, Goodwill and The Salvation Army.
“It gets better and better every year,” said Moua. “It’s a great way to give back to the community and a great way to ensure that young women in the community have the same opportunities as everyone else.”
Project Prom is scheduled from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday at the Alliance Church of Merced, 1171 Old Lake Road. The event is open to all high school students with a valid photo ID. Those who are still interested in donating a dress can do so at the event also.