SDUSD Stories: Lincoln High Students Receive the Prom of a Lifetime

Posted: Monday, July 3rd 2017


When spring comes around and talk of Prom begins, most high school students begin thinking about their ideal night out. Who to go with, what color dress to buy, how to get the best table in town for dinner, even which color limousine to rent. But for those students who live with serious financial hardships every day, this topic invites anything but happiness and excitement.

Unfortunately, many teens in San Diego don’t even entertain the idea of attending their prom, as just the cost of a ticket is prohibitive for a family struggling to cover day-to-day living expenses. This year, an incredible team of caring individuals was determined to change this, and they gave one group of students from Lincoln High School the prom of a lifetime.

Amir Alliance for Success, Extended Hands Worldwide Ministries, and JC Penney teamed up to create an incredible experience for Lincoln High students that they’ll never forget. Nine deserving teens were treated to an all-expenses-paid “Prom Experience” that included free dresses, suits, shoes, hair and makeup, and a VIP photo shoot at one of San Diego’s fanciest hotels. (Read more about this in the Voice & Viewpoint)

The idea was inspired by Amir Alliance for Success founder Dalesean Lynch, who recalled his own bad experience with prom when he was a student. Lynch, a Lincoln alum who still gives back as an assistant coach, struggled with attending his own prom due to family hardships and simply not having the money. “I wanted to turn my negative experience into a positive one for these kids,” said Lynch. “We had kids who knew they couldn’t even go, couldn’t even buy a prom ticket.” 

Together with Cassandra Foster of Extended Hands Ministries, Lynch enlisted the help of Shereese Whittington, a store manager at J.C. Penney. Whittington was eager to jump in, as were many of her employees and associates at J.C. Penney. “How many people are out there willing to help, but just don’t know how?” Whittington and Foster had teamed up in the past to deliver brand new clothes to children in need at several San Diego schools, and they were excited to make this an even more memorable event for a deserving group of Lincoln students.

Now that the team had come together and a mission plan was in place, the next step was to get their group of students together.

After encouraging students to write short essays about their life experiences, their academic goals, and the hardships they’ve worked to overcome, the team identified a group of deserving teens who they felt would benefit from this experience the most.

“One student, both of her parents had been deported, her family situation was really difficult. She wrote the idea of prom off completely,” said Whittington. The other students had all faced similar challenges in their lives that made the idea of spending money on prom all but impossible. 

Lynch added to this, “These were kids who had never worn a suit, never worn a dress, or dress shoes.” One student became emotional and nearly cried upon learning that he would not only be able to attend prom, but would be treated to a full, brand-new wardrobe for the big night. “He had never had anything before. He didn’t know how to receive,” Lynch recalled.

Another student was so surprised and moved by the donation that she forgot to mention she had never been able to “dress up,” and felt insecure about her appearance. The team worked with her to overcome this by spending additional time doing a “pre-makeover” and talking privately. It didn’t take long for her nervousness to turn into a big smile. “The self-esteem rises, and they just glow,” said Foster. “The looks on their faces were so wonderful.”

As part of the “Prom Experience,” these Lincoln students spent one-on-one time with J.C. Penney associates who helped them pick out and get sized for suits, dresses, and shoes, all of which were theirs to keep. The team enlisted the help of dozens of J.C. Penney employees from stores across San Diego County, who all donated their personal time to help out.

Making sure each student received a personalized shopping experience made for quite a logistical effort, as well. “We took kids all over, Mission Valley, Escondido, Vista… it was all worth it!” said Whittington. Each student had their own fashion “team” who helped them get ready for the big event, but they weren’t headed to the dance just yet. 

Lynch didn’t just want these deserving teens to get new clothes. He wanted them to have the experience he never had when he was a Lincoln student himself. “We wanted to show these kids, you don’t have to be a millionaire to give back. You can give them hope, and anyone can do it.” 

The big surprise? A pre-prom VIP photo shoot and private lounge at the historic U.S. Grant Hotel in downtown San Diego. The Lincoln students were treated to the full celebrity experience at the U.S. Grant, a place none of the students had ever been before. 

In the midst of the shared excitement, another thing happened: the students began opening up to each other. “They started sharing their experiences, and started talking a lot more,” said Cassandra Foster. It became clear that “many of these kids had all faced similar hardships in their life,” and served as a bonding experience for some. “Seeing the transformation of their smiles in that VIP room, it was a lifetime opportunity and it was an experience we’ll never forget as well.”

After the success of this event, Lynch, Foster, and Whittington are determined to keep the positive momentum going. Lynch said they hope to be able to provide this same amazing experience to more San Diego kids in the future, among other charitable programs. “You don’t have to give people big cars, big things. You just have to give them hope.”

So what’s next? Lynch won’t say for sure, but he has some ideas in the works. “Lots of kids have never even had a birthday party… we can change that.” If you want to get involved and help make a difference in the lives of San Diego children, reach out:

- Amirallianceforsuccess.com
- extendedhandswwm.org

 

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