For some high school seniors, prom night is the most important social event of their teenage years, and plans are laid out weeks and months in advance. But it’s no Cinderella story, and there’s no fairy godmother to poof the ingredients for a magical night into one’s hands. Between the tickets, limousine, hair and nail appointments, and dress and tuxedo rentals, prom can run the happy couple hundreds of dollars. Many of Philadelphia’s inner-city youth can’t afford the luxury, and therefore are unable to dance the night away to Eric Clapton. That’s where Kiara Ross steps in.
Think of her as that fairy godmother of proms. Ross, a freshman marketing major and Philadelphia native, is the brains behind the Dream Prom Contest, a competition open to high school senior girls in Philadelphia for the opportunity to win the prom of a lifetime.
Ross, a former member of the Upward Bound program at the Russell Conwell Center, and currently a community fellow there, said she decided to take on the project after her overseer at the Russell Conwell Center presented the opportunity.
“First, I didn’t really know what I got myself into when I decided to sign up for this project, but then I found Tania [Neptune], she’s also a community fellow and she decided to help me, so together we formed an application,” Ross said.
The application is an essay, video or PowerPoint presentation that the high school senior girls must complete, detailing any community service they’ve done or any after-school programs they’re involved in, and how these experiences affect their lives.
After Ross and Neptune, a sophomore psychology major and vice president of Main Campus Program Board, collect all the applications, they and a panel of members read the essays and select the Top 50. The 50 selected are then invited to the Dream Prom ceremony on Main Campus, where they’ll be able to select a new or gently used prom dress donated from community members.
During the ceremony, there will also be a pageant, during which a selected Top 5 will answer questions for the panel.
“Whoever we feel deserves the grand prize will win at the ceremony,” Ross said. “[She] will win a custom prom dress, free hair, makeup, a limousine to take with the date of their choice and [they can] enjoy their prom for free.”
“We’re really looking for someone who’s well-rounded, who’s dedicated to community service, because that’s really important,” Ross added.
But this isn’t Ross’ first experience with civic engagement or philanthropy. During her junior year at Philadelphia High School For Girls, she created an organization called Gospel Girls, a faith-based nonprofit for which she and fellow members put together dorm packages for students going off to college to help lift a financial burden. Packages included all the essentials college-bound students would need, including sheets, comforters and an iron.
Ross stressed how important after-school programs are, especially after going through high school. She said she witnessed many of her peers get into trouble if they weren’t in after-school programs.
“School shouldn’t just stop when you get out of school,” Ross said. “You have to keep going.”
“I just want to give back,” Ross added. “I think it’s very important to give back to your community and help people, because there’s always someone who needs something. And I just hope that this program will help them in some kind of way.”
Alexis Sachdev can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.