Helping girls be their best at the ball

COSTA MESA — When nonprofit volunteer Kristi Piatkowski recalls her high school prom, she remembers not just one night, but months of planning that cumulated with her showcasing her carefully selected fairy-tale dress.

"I came from a small town," the Minnesota native said. "Prom was the thing to do. Everyone went."

Piatkowski now serves as volunteer program manager for Orangewood Children's Foundation, a Santa Ana nonprofit that provides programs and services to children who are in the foster care system or are victims of abuse and neglect.

The Orangewood Children's Foundation, Costa Mesa-based Girls Inc., Orange Coast College and Women Helping Women are preparing for the fourth annual Belle of the Ball event.

The one-day private event and workshop series, which provides about 300 girls selected through the organizations' programs with a free formal dress and accessories, is aimed at improving self-esteem, Piatkowski said.

"This is not just about prom," Piatkowski said of the dresses, which are given to the girls to keep and make an important day, such as graduation, even more special.

"Some of these girls have never even worn a dress," Piatkowski said. "Just the opportunity to wear a gorgeous gown that is brand new or looks brand new puts a smile on their faces and makes them feel great."

After receiving the help of a personal shopper while trying on and selecting their dresses, the girls attend workshops that teach them stress management, improving personal body image and makeup tips.

"I have attended this special event for the last two years and both times I felt like an amazing princess," wrote an 18-year-old participant identified only as Johanna, in her written testimonial. "I have never been pampered like this in my whole 18 years. I loved how I was treated by everyone, especially the volunteers."

Belle of the Ball will take place March 26 at OCC. Donations can be made though March 5 by contacting Piatkowski at (714) 619-0200 ext. 248 or

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