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Foster kids fitted for future at fourth annual event

  • Travis Enders, 18, of South Hadley, walks the runway April 7, 2018, at Tower Square in Springfield during Fitting For The Future, an annual event put on by HelpOurKids to give high school kids in foster care an opportunity to shop for special event clothing and accessories at no cost. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • High heels wait to be claimed April 7, 2018 at Tower Square in Springfield during Fitting For The Future, an annual event put on by HelpOurKids to give high school kids in foster care an opportunity to shop for special event clothing and accessories at no cost. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Adriana Gonzalez, 19, of Springfield, center, has her makeup done by volunteer Ruth Butler April 7, 2018 at Tower Square in Springfield during Fitting For The Future, an annual event put on by HelpOurKids to give high school kids in foster care an opportunity to shop for special event clothing and accessories at no cost. —GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Lix Solis, 19, of Springfield, has her makeup done by volunteer Valerie Acton of Collegeville, Penn., April 7, 2018 at Tower Square in Springfield during Fitting For The Future, an annual event put on by HelpOurKids to give high school kids in foster care an opportunity to shop for special event clothing and accessories at no cost. —GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Travis Enders, 18, of South Hadley, left, learns to tie a bow tie from volunteer Grace Hilliard-Koshinsky of Boston, Saturday, at Tower Square in Springfield during HelpOurKids’ Fitting For The Future event. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Anastacia Serrano, 15, of Springfield, walks the runway April 7, 2018 at Tower Square in Springfield during Fitting For The Future, an annual event put on by HelpOurKids to give high school kids in foster care an opportunity to shop for special event clothing and accessories at no cost. —GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Adriana Gonzalez, 19, of Springfield, has her hair done by volunteer Ruth Butler April 7, 2018 at Tower Square in Springfield during Fitting For The Future, an annual event put on by HelpOurKids to give high school kids in foster care an opportunity to shop for special event clothing and accessories at no cost. —GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Adriana Gonzalez, 19, of Springfield, right, tries on a dress with the assistance of volunteer Deb Bergeron of Holyoke April 7, 2018 at Tower Square in Springfield during Fitting For The Future, an annual event put on by HelpOurKids to give high school kids in foster care an opportunity to shop for special event clothing and accessories at no cost. —GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Anastacia Serrano, 15, of Springfield, looks in a mirror after her makeup was professionally done April 7, 2018 at Tower Square in Springfield during Fitting For The Future, an annual event put on by HelpOurKids to give high school kids in foster care an opportunity to shop for special event clothing and accessories at no cost. —GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Travis Enders, 18, of South Hadley, left, learns to tie a bow tie from volunteer Grace Hilliard-Koshinsky of Boston, Saturday, at Tower Square in Springfield during HelpOurKids’ Fitting For The Future event. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Anastacia Serrano, 15, of Springfield, walks the runway Saturday at Tower Square in Springfield during Fitting For The Future, an annual event put on by HelpOurKids to give high school kids in foster care an opportunity to shop for special event clothing and accessories at no cost. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY



@mjtidwell781
Sunday, April 08, 2018

SPRINGFIELD — Music pumping through the drab, gray community room at Tower Square transformed it for a day Saturday into a prom-dress, suit-and-tie paradise — a one-stop-shop for young people in foster care to pick out nice clothing and accessories for the special events in their lives.

“Kids in foster care don’t have access to a lot of these items and they spend a lot of their time waiting,” said Noryn Resnick, executive director of HelpOurKids. “I set up this day for them to go everywhere they need to go, all at once.”

Resnick formed the western Massachusetts nonprofit in 2012 to provide foster children with clothes, shoes and accessories that normally would be unavailable to them. She has been putting on the Fitting for Our Future event for the last four years, and calls the annual event a “day of yes.”

“Some kids have never had their hair done, have never felt pretty,” she said. “They can’t ask for it; they don’t have a voice. This is a chance for them to make decisions and choices for themselves.”

Near the back of the meeting room, five sewing machines whirred as volunteers hemmed and tailored clothing items to fit their new owners. Rows and rows of shoes lined tables nearing the dressing area, a back room with display boards put together to create dressing rooms. Racks of taffeta, silk and sequined dresses lined one side of the room, with more racks of tops, work dresses and pants nearby. On the other side, suit jackets, pants and ties waited for new owners.

Between displays of scarves, belts, and purses, a runway lined with gold and silver star-shaped balloons and velvet ropes draped in paper flowers stood ready for shows put on by the young people when they finished their shopping. In a corner, stylists volunteering their time did hair and makeup, passed along beauty kits and taught young people how to recreate their looks at home.

Volunteers in beige aprons acted as personal shoppers, following their “clients” from clothing to shoes to jewelry and accessories, and waiting as they tried outfits on before leading them to hair and makeup, followed by a portrait opportunity.

Personal shoppers

One of the unique aspects of the event is that some of the volunteers and personal shoppers on Saturday were formerly in foster care themselves.

Grace Hilliard-Koshinsky, program manager for Massachusetts Network of Foster Care Alumni, said her experience in foster care gave her the chance to connect with the young people coming to the event and to share with them her success as an adult.

“We all need mirrors, people who look like us,” she said. “This event is about walking hand in hand with other foster youth.”

Dakota Roundtree-Swain, a volunteer events coordinator for Boston events of the alumni network, said that when she was 19 she felt alone and didn’t know other foster kids like herself. Prom was a difficult experience, she said; she almost wasn’t able to go because the dance was too late in the evening, and when she was able to make it, she had to pay for her dress out of pocket.

When she found the Massachusetts Network of Foster Care Alumni, she said, right away she had a two-hour phone conversation with Hilliard-Koshinsky.

“She’s been an amazing mentor for me,” Roundtree-Swain said. “At this event, I get to pay it back and be a mirror and mentor for other kids.”

Later in life, she called Hilliard-Koshinsky before a big job interview, which she said gave her the confidence to feel like she belonged in business clothes.

“When you have the opportunity to wear something that fits, that was made for you, it has ripple effects throughout your life,” Hilliard-Koshinsky said. “It gives you the confidence to go get that job interview or to go to prom.”

Throughout the day on Saturday, both could be seen with armfuls of suit jackets or bright pink gowns, walking from station to station as they asked questions about fit and style, confidence and personal taste.

On the runway

At one point, Hilliard-Koshinsky knelt in front of a mirror next to Travis Enders, an 18-year-old living with his foster parent in South Hadley, to show him how to tie a bright magenta bow tie.

Kim Kretzer, his foster parent, watched proudly as he wore the bow tie down the runway, twice, complete with funky dance moves thrown in.

“I knew he would ham it up on the runway,” Kretzer said. “Even if he got nervous right before.”

Kretzer said Enders came into her life in an unusual way. She got to know him when he was a student and she a teacher at Amherst High School. Two years after they first met, Enders texted her to say that his placement family would no longer be able to support him. She got in touch with the Department of Children and Families right away.

“I woke up that morning and it was just me and my dog,” Kretzer said. “That night, I had a kid.”

She said she was thrown right into being a foster parent as Enders had a driving test coming up, but in the two years since he’s come to live with her, she said they’ve grown close.

“I’m so proud of him,” she said. “I love this event because it’s all about the kids. There were three people just to help him shop. I think he’s loving all the positive attention, even if he’ll never say it.”

Enders said he appreciated how non-judgmental the event was, and said it didn’t feel awkward because everyone was there with the same purpose.

About his moves on the runway?

“I really like to dance.”

Signature style

Adriana Gonzalez, a 19-year-old from Springfield who is in foster care, spent the morning laughing and joking with volunteers. She said some of the volunteers were social workers, so they had already developed a relationship, while other volunteers she had met in previous years. This was her third time attending the event.

“They’re … that is my family,” she said. “They give us a voice and a look to go with that voice.”

Flipping through photos on her phone, she showed a fluffy pink ballgown she wore to a military ball and a maroon dress and suit jacket for job interviews that she had found at prior Fitting for the Future events.

As she stood in front of a wall of full length mirrors, a team of volunteers tucking and pinning a violet dress to ready it for alterations, she said she liked being able to get dressed up and have her hair and makeup done.

Next, a bright orange summer dress, followed by white lace, and then she was off to the beauty section.

“It feels great to have people who care and want to know what you like,” Gonzalez said.

Hai V. Pham-Nguyen, 20, of Springfield, also said this was his third year coming to the event and said he liked the fancy clothes he’s found for prom, job interviews, and just dressing up in his signature steampunk style. Wearing prop goggles as part of his aesthetic, he said his style shows who he is. This year, he was in search of a suit to wear for singing auditions.

In a sharp suit and silk patterned vest, he added, “This is the best I’ve felt all day.”

Preparing for the event

Two days before, volunteers had assembled the racks and tables and carefully chosen the displays. Several young men from the Delta Chi fraternity at the University of Massachusetts Amherst helped with heavy lifting.

Over by a neat pile of plastic-wrapped dresses, Sarah Bleichfield of Belchertown and Susan Bellak of Amherst discussed how best to display the dresses, how the displays should flow so that the young people could easily find everything they’re looking for.

“It’s amazing how many clothes we get, and the shoes always blow my mind,” Bleichfield said. “These kids often have to grow up too soon. Here, they feel like they’re important and they matter.”

Bellak said that for volunteers, the main focus is on making the experience the very best it can be for the kids.

“These kids deserve the same experiences that other kids get to have,” Bellak said. “We hope to fill emotional space with the experience, not just the stuff. It’s such a wonderful, meaningful day.”

The meeting room space was donated by Tower Square for the event, Resnick said, and local businesses, such as Thornes in Northampton, held donation drives for clothing and shoes. Before leaving, the young people were given a duffel bag to place their new possessions in, along with what volunteers called swag bags — kits of toothbrushes and toothpaste, healthy snacks, hairbrushes, chapstick, nail files, and other personal hygiene essentials.

Bellak said the duffel bags were especially important, as many of the young people don’t have luggage or personal space to store things.

“All their new stuff gets to go in something that is truly their own,” she said.

A press release for the event said 100 volunteers from the community helped with the event which was expected to help around 75 young people in foster care find nice clothing for events in their lives.

“Kids in foster care come here and they have the opportunity to leave the ‘foster’ part at the door and just be kids,” Resnick said.

M.J. Tidwell can be reached at mjtidwell@gazette.com.