Thursday, 26 April 2018 17:41

HPL fairy godmothers answer prom prayers for teens in need

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Ruby Robinson launched a program to give free prom dresses to girls in storm-damaged neighborhoods. Ruby Robinson launched a program to give free prom dresses to girls in storm-damaged neighborhoods. Photo by Elise Marrion

Cinderella’s hopes to attend the ball were dashed by her ugly stepsisters and evil stepmother. The same could have happened to many prom-bound teens after the wicked storm Harvey left thousands of Houstonians in need.  

As families continue to recover from the effects of Harvey, fitting prom expenses into thinly stretched budgets may seem like a fairy tale. Despite financial hardships, prom dreams are coming true for dozens of area high schools students thanks to “fairy godmothers” from the Houston Public Library, local businesses and around the community. 

Ruby Robinson, library manager for the McCrane-Kashmere Neighborhood Library, spearheaded a series of Fairy Godmother Prom Dress and Tux events to provide free dresses and tuxedos to teens, giving storm survivors one less thing to worry about. The inaugural event was held on March 17 at the Carnegie Neighborhood Library and Center for Learning and was extended two additional days to April 7 and 12. 

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Photo by Elise Marrion

Ruby Robinson displays her favorite of the donated gowns.

Montage Bridal, Ventura’s Bridal Fashion, library staff and patrons donated nearly 100 new and gently used dresses. Career Gear, a nonprofit organization that provides professional clothing for low-income men, offered vouchers for free tuxedo rentals. 

“When I worked at the Central Library teen room, we hosted events where girls could come in and learn makeup tips, make accessories and other fun things for prom. I remembered wishing we could do it at the branches, especially after Harvey,” Robinson said. “When you look back on your high school experience, prom is such an important memory. I would hate for kids to miss out because they can’t afford to go.”

From chiffon to taffeta, sequins to glitter, gowns and cocktail dresses in every color of the rainbow filled several rolling clothing racks. Purses, scarves and wraps spilled out of a cart. Pumps, stilettos and sparkly sandals lined display tables. In a separate room, temporary fitting rooms were constructed with PVC pipes and heavy black curtains. Over the three events, 64 teens were outfitted in formal attire.

Robinson, who has worked for HPL since 2008, said she was grateful for the support she received from donors and HPL managers.

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Photo by Elise Marrion

Dejana Jackquet, 18, tries on gowns in hopes of finding the perfect prom dress.

“Everyone has been so positive about the event,” Robinson said. “I’m amazed at all the materials that people were willing to give. I hope to make it bigger next year. Even when this community recovers from Harvey, there will still be a need. The library is so much more than just a place to find books. We are always thinking of new ways to the quality of life in our neighborhoods.”

Rebecca Denham, HPL teen services coordinator, commended Robinson on her efforts to find a creative way to serve the community.  

“Ruby has done a fantastic job of coordinating the dress donations, scheduling this event, shoes donated,” Denham said. “We were all impacted by Harvey in some way, and teens are often forgotten when it comes to disaster recovery. They’re not small children, they’re not adults and they kind of get lost in that gray area between. But they have very specific needs and their emotional and brain development is critical at this time. A program like this offers a chance at normalcy.”

McCrane-Kashmere Gardens librarian Melissa Ryans said she and the staff were happy to support any initiative that works toward community recovery. McCrane-Kashmere Gardens library has been closed for storm-related repairs and is temporarily operating out of the Northeast Multi-Service Center. 

“Ruby has always expressed an interest in youth service,” Ryans said. “We have two other youth services staff who helped with decorations and event setup. As supervisor, I’m here to provide support, backup and guidance and let them run with their ideas. I am so glad our staff rallied around Ruby to help make this happen.”

Watch this CW 39 NewsFix news segment about the Fairy Godmother Prom Dress and Tux Fest: