LAS VEGAS -- Las Vegas resident Leigh Aurbach recalls the pain that struck her heart, like a needle prick from a corsage-pinning, at seeing young women miss their high school proms because they were too poor to afford a gown.
Prom season is now underway across America, and thanks to a nonprofit here, disadvantaged teens will have ample choice of dresses for a youth’s rite of passage.
On Saturday in downtown Las Vegas, as part of “Operation Glass Slipper,” hundreds of girls are expected to converge on an industrial space near the old City Hall to peruse 1,500 prom gowns in a range of shapes, colors and sizes. Also on hand will be hundreds of new shoes donated by a store that recently went out of business, as well as clutch purses, earrings and other accessories.
Alas, the girls must find their own dates, but if someone asks them, now they can say, “Yes!”
Aurback, who works in the PR department at the Smith Center of the Performing Arts, told the Los Angeles Times she helped co-found Las Vegas Prom Closet a decade ago while working to place teens in foster homes.
“I asked one 16-year-old, ‘Are you going to the prom?’ and she shook her head ‘No,’” Aurbach said.
The teen had moved in with her grandmother after her mother died of AIDS. “She said there wasn’t any money for the dress, which all mothers know can cost up to $500,” Aurbach said.
The girl never made her prom. But Aurbach vowed to help others facing her plight.
Aurbach had read about a prom dress program in Chicago and asked her college-age daughter to do some research. Together they found a program in Reno and contacted founders there to learn how to get started.
Each year since, 500 or more local girls have wandered aisles where dresses are arranged in a store setting. Volunteers have seen countless families who wept because their daughter looked so beautiful in a dress they never thought she would be able to wear.
Aurbach says the group promotes the event on its website, www.lvpromcloset.com, as well as through counseling offices of schools with at-risk students. Volunteers keep in touch with past program participants, asking about friends or younger sisters who might need tips on the finer points of couture.
On Friday, teens with physical disabilities were given first choice of the dresses, and the space will reopen Saturday for other hopeful prom-goers.
Already, some families are scouting out the turf, Aurbach told The Times.
“We had a grandmother come to the space this week just to make sure she knew where it was and what time to bring her granddaughter,” she said. “The girl’s mom had passed away and the grandmother was raising the girl.”
Last year, the event boasted numerous neon princess gowns and short '80s-style cocktail dresses, all mainstays in prom fashion magazines.
No doubt, Aurbach’s vision will come to life yet again: The night one teen will always remember will start with a gift one grandmother will never forget.