American Heart: Prom Dresses for Foster Girls

The hundreds of teenage girls who've come to a rented dance studio north of Atlanta don't often get the chance to feel like princesses. They come from foster care families and group homes, but thanks to a Georgia charity, the girls will leave this event with the dress of their dreams. They're headed for the prom.

The scene is controlled chaos. The organizers call it "Prom-A-Palooza." In one room, there are more than 1,000 donated dresses, and the young girls have crowded the room searching for the right one.

In the room next door, the organizers have built more than a dozen makeshift dressing rooms, and it's busy there too. In a third room, there are shoes, handbags, jewelry, and makeup artists. And it's all free.

Like most of the girls here, 17-year-old Shaqayla came looking for the dress for her first prom. The look on her face when she walked out of the dressing room in a dress was priceless.

"It's beautiful! Thank you! Yeah! I like it!" she exclaimed.

Some of the dresses are donated by stores, but very few. The vast majority come from other teenage girls, across the state of Georgia, who went to prom last year and wanted their dress to go to those in need.

"There's a lot of trauma in the lives of [foster children], so this is something that makes their lives a little softer, a little happier," said Rachel Ewald, the founder and executive director of the Foster Care Support Foundation, which provides the dresses.

"Last year, we had a foster parent that brought three teenage girls up here and she had one girl that she said just never smiled," Ewald said. "She said all the way home – they had a three-hour trip back home – she kept hearing giggles in the back seat from the girl who never smiled."

Ewald knows firsthand the needs of children in foster care. Over the years, she has opened her heart and her home to more than 50 foster care children. Ewald says that every one of these girls has been through rough times and should be made to feel special, at the very least for a day.

"There's no money in foster care for prom," she said, "and that's why this is a good way to do that…they look like princesses and feel like princesses, why shouldn't they? Everybody should feel like a princess for one day."

Ewald started this event several years ago, handing out the dresses from the back of her garage. She is now trying to raise money to buy a permanent structure big enough to keep all the clothing and other items donated to these children.

Nikki Venson is a foster care mother. She says that without the free dresses, she couldn't afford to send her two foster teens to this year's prom. "It's basically like having extra help, and that's always good, because it's always something, they always need something," she said.

Krystal, who is 15, says most girls take the moment of buying their prom dress for granted – but not her. "When I got to foster care, I wasn't expecting to go to prom, and it's like, I'm going. I'm about to cry, I'm so happy!"

The experience is a joy for both the girls and their foster parents. "She looks so pretty in that, oh I could just cry," one foster mother told ABC News. "I feel like she's getting married and she's just going to prom."

"So how do you feel today?" ABC News asked Addison Manus as she proudly modeled her favorite dress. "Like God gave me a reason to be here," she said.

How to Help Foster Children in Your Community

Click here to visit Raise Me Up, a Web site that provides nationwide information on how you can help foster kids in your community.

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