The Cinderella treatment for teens in foster care

  • Gamalier Marquez, 19, of Springfield takes a turn on the runway in his new suit. Before going on stage, “I was nervous,” Marquez explained afterwards. “But people said, ‘You look great,’ and it felt great.” STAFF PHOTO / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Springfield Technical Community College first-year Lix Soliz and Phoenix Charter Academy student Michael Picard, both 20, are filmed by volunteer Veronica Santana, foreground right, as they walk the runway. Picard said a volunteer taught him how to tie a tie. “I love how they treat us,” Soliz said of the volunteers. STAFF PHOTO / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Ludlow High School senior Taylor Cardinal, left, consults with volunteer Valerie Acton of Philadelphia, about the look she envisioned.

  • Top, Chicopee High School senior Scott Duval, 18, tries on formal wear. Above, he’s assisted by TD Bank volunteer Mark Robison, left, of Holyoke and Jones Group volunteer Luke Dunn, right, of Amherst. STAFF PHOTO / KEVIN GUTTING

  • “Most are so focused on survival,” said event organizer and HelpOurKids founder Noryn Resnick. “Here they can unfold and relax.”  STAFF PHOTO / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Chicopee High School senior Scott Duval, 18, is assisted by TD Bank volunteer Mark Robison, left, of Holyoke and Jones Group volunteer Luke Dunn, right, of Amherst during the "Fitting for the Future" event held in the Scibelli Hall gymnasium at Springfield Technical Community College on Saturday, April 6, 2019. —STAFF PHOTO / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Easthampton Savings Bank volunteer Deb Bergeron of Holyoke makes alterations to clothes picked out by participants. STAFF PHOTO / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Gamalier Marquez, 19, of Springfield walks the runway in his new threads during the "Fitting for the Future" event held in the Scibelli Hall gymnasium at Springfield Technical Community College on Saturday, April 6, 2019. —STAFF PHOTO / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Ludlow High School senior Taylor Cardinal has her makeup done by volunteer Valerie Acton of Philadelphia during the "Fitting for the Future" event held in the Scibelli Hall gymnasium at Springfield Technical Community College on Saturday, April 6, 2019. —STAFF PHOTO / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Ludlow High School senior Taylor Cardinal has her makeup done by volunteer Valerie Acton of Philadelphia - to harmonize with her dress - during the "Fitting for the Future" event held in the Scibelli Hall gymnasium at Springfield Technical Community College on Saturday, April 6, 2019. —STAFF PHOTO / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Ludlow High School senior Taylor Cardinal, left, consults with volunteer Valerie Acton of Philadelphia, who was doing her makeup during the "Fitting for the Future" event held in the Scibelli Hall gymnasium at Springfield Technical Community College on Saturday, April 6, 2019. —STAFF PHOTO / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Volunteers (in tan aprons) and friends applaud participants in "Fitting for the Future" as they walk the runway at the event held in the Scibelli Hall gymnasium at Springfield Technical Community College on Saturday, April 6, 2019. —STAFF PHOTO / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Chicopee High School senior Scott Duval, 18, is assisted by TD Bank volunteer Mark Robison, left, of Holyoke and Jones Group volunteer Luke Dunn, right, of Amherst during the "Fitting for the Future" event held in the Scibelli Hall gymnasium at Springfield Technical Community College on Saturday, April 6, 2019. —STAFF PHOTO / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Center for New Americans volunteer Griselle Rivera of Easthampton makes alterations to outfits picked out by participants in the "Fitting for the Future" event held in the Scibelli Hall gymnasium at Springfield Technical Community College on Saturday, April 6, 2019. —STAFF PHOTO / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Westfield State University sophomore Krista Galetta, 20, of West Springfield has her hair done by Springfield Technical Community College cosmetology program senior Arianna Kelly during the "Fitting for the Future" event held in the Scibelli Hall gymnasium at Springfield Technical Community College on Saturday, April 6, 2019. —STAFF PHOTO / KEVIN GUTTING

  • TD Bank volunteer Tracey Alves-Lear, left, of Holyoke helps Holyoke Community College first-year Sherlie Figueroa, 20, pick out a dress during the "Fitting for the Future" event held in the Scibelli Hall gymnasium at Springfield Technical Community College on Saturday, April 6, 2019. —STAFF PHOTO / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Chicopee High School senior Scott Duval, 18, tries on a suit jacket during the "Fitting for the Future" event held in the Scibelli Hall gymnasium at Springfield Technical Community College on Saturday, April 6, 2019. —STAFF PHOTO / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Something for everyone: Noryn Resnick finds out attendees' sizes in advance to ensure there are tons of sparkly and practical options. (You can drop off donations for next year's event now at TD Bank in Northampton.) STAFF PHOTO / KEVIN GUTTING

Staff Writer
Published: 6/6/2019 3:47:54 PM

When Gamalier Marquez walked out onto the stage wearing his new suit, a huge smile splashed across his face. Overwhelmed by all the clapping and cheering from the crowd, the 19-year-old looked up at the ceiling as he reached the end of the stage and said, “Oh my god.”

Before going on stage, “I was nervous,” Marquez explained afterwards. “But people said, ‘You look great,’ and it felt great.” More than just a turn on the runway, the experience was preparing him for an upcoming milestone.

“I have everything I need for prom,” said Marquez, of Springfield. “I can’t wait.”

“There is a misconception that when kids are in foster care, everything is paid for,” said Noryn Resnick, who started Fitting for the Future five years ago so that teens and young adults in foster care could pick out prom wear, interview outfits and other clothing free of charge.

The sad truth, Resnick says, is that many guardians can only provide shelter, food and a bed. Items that many families take for granted, such as a formal dress or a suit and tie, are often luxuries that teens in foster care simply do not have access to and can prevent them from participating in school events.

“Most kids in foster care don’t have a choice,” said Resnick, also the founder of HelpOurKids, a non-profit that serves the Springfield and Hampshire County areas. “I want kids here to have a choice.”

Indeed, Resnick and her legion of volunteers had transformed the Scibelli Hall Gymnasium at Springfield Technical Community College into a one-stop makeover center.

There were over 38 racks of clothing filled with gowns, dresses, suits, skirts, blouses and blazers. Over 400 purses and handbags stretched across several tables, and there were ties, bow ties, cufflinks, tie bars, rings, bracelets and other jewelry to complete people’s outfits. Resnick said that the event cleared out 40 bins of shoes.

All the clothing comes from donations, which is a yearlong process and continues up to the day before the event, Resnick said. The sources of donations are many; organizations, high schools, colleges, students groups, community members and from volunteers.

And just to make sure all the sizes of youth in foster are accounted for, Resnick asks for clothing and shoe sizes in the registration form to make sure the event is well stocked.

The 100 or so participants started by browsing rows of polished shoes and heels, racks of sports coats in navy, black and tan, and a rainbow of dresses.

Choosing their outfits is the first step. Then comes the custom tailoring — there’s a bank of volunteers on sewing machines making sure that everything fits perfectly.

A common response from the teens and young adults in foster care that participated in Fitting for Our Future was how compassionate and helpful the volunteers were.

“Me encanta como nos tratan,” (I love how they treat us,) said Lix Soliz, 20, who picked out a ruched cocktail dress and a dress to wear for job interviews. She’s attended the event for the past three years and says the volunteers are a huge part of the experience.

“Se siente bien especial la forma que nos tratan.” (The way they treat us feels truly special.) And their opinions of what looks good is important to her, too, she explained of the “super hermoso” — or really beautiful — blue dress she settled on.

Michael Picard, a 20-year-old student at Phoenix Charter School in Springfield, said the volunteers also provided many valuable tips for wearing a suit that he otherwise might not have picked up on.

A volunteer showed him how the sleeves of his suit jacket should be a little shorter than his shirt’s sleeve as well as how to tie a tie. “He taught me a lot,” Picard said.

Picard left the event with two suits, a couple of shirts, some slacks, ties and a pair of socks that he said he will wear to church, job interviews and to his graduation. “I didn’t know how it was going to work, and they gave me giant duffel bag and they said, ‘You fill it and you keep it.’

“My face dropped,” Picard continued. “It’s hard to explain, you have to see it for yourself. It’s huge.”

Volunteer turnout for the event continues to grow every year, Resnick said, and this year, 120 people showed up to help.

Local businesses, including the Easthampton Savings Bank, Berkshire Bank and TD Bank, sign up volunteers to work at the event.

Many volunteers who attended the first Fitting for the Future and have since moved out of the area continue to return for the yearly event — arriving from Boston, Cape Cod, Washington D.C. and Pennsylvania.

James McQuillen, a volunteer from Washington, D.C., rolled up a young man’s tan pants and marked where to hem them. The young man was dressed in a tan coat, a yellow shirt and a red-and-yellow striped tie, and McQuillen pointed to a small box on the floor in front of a mirror.

“Take a step up there and take a look at yourself,” McQuillen said.

On the other side of the gymnasium, students from STCC’s cosmetology department listened to the teens describe how they wanted to look before cutting their hair or applying their makeup.

“You ask them what colors they’d like and if they want something more subtle or bold, conservative or high-fashion,” said Deziray DeJesus, a cosmetology student at STCC. “It’s empowering to make them feel good and confident in their own way.”

One’s teenage years are already fraught with challenges, but teens in foster care often have the added uncertainty of a living situation that can change with little warning. Many teens want to fit in, and proper attire is often required for job interviews, dances and certain school trips. If a teen in foster care can’t afford a suit or dress, they can feel ostracized says Resnick. She and her team of volunteers make sure that doesn’t happen at Fitting for the Future. For many youth at the event, this is their first time wearing a suit or high-heels, Resnick said.

A stage and runway set up in the middle of the gymnasium offered participants the opportunity to show off their new looks.

Every 10 or 15 minutes, Resnick would get on the microphone and yell, “Here we go!”

The pop music in the room would get turned up and from behind a black curtain somebody would emerge. Volunteers and fellow teens and young adults would gather around to cheer on the runway walker — or walkers. Some made their way down the runway with their friends and would raise their hands together at the end. Others would wave and give a little twirl before going back down the stage.

“We’ve never had a runway like this before,” Resnick said. “We would just put balloons on the floor and people would walk down. It puts them in the spotlight in a way they’ve never been before. By the time they’ve gone through all the different stations, they feel good enough to take the chance of walking down the runway and being noticed.”

“It’s a good opportunity for people who can’t get dresses and who feel insecure,” said Savannah, a 17-year-old who attended the event. “Dressing up and getting their makeup done — it makes people feel better about themselves.”

Juan Quintana, who works for the Massachusetts Department of Child and Family Services, has brought a youth in foster care to Fitting for the Future for the past two years.

“It’s a chance to expose themselves and have this positive atmosphere around others,” Quintana said. “And the one-on-one attention is valuable. Some come in shy, and by the time they leave, they are more outgoing and have something to show off.”

One of the participants that day was a high school student in a Hampshire County school who was recently placed in foster care after the student’s mother decided it was the best decision for their family. At the age of 16, the student found himself in a new school, living in a new home.

Not long after, the student was in a difficult situation: He had a featured role in a school event but lacked the appropriate formal attire. “He wasn’t going to go,” Resnick said. The student’s social worker told him about Fitting for the Future, where the student found a jacket, shirt and slacks for the event.

“He got to participate in something, to be like the other kids and feel good about himself,” Resnick said. “He was sending pictures of himself to his mother who couldn’t go to the concert and he shared how nice he looked.”

To volunteer or donate to Fitting for the Future, visit helpourkidsinc.org/fitting-for-the-future.

Luis Fieldman can be reached at lfieldman@gazettenet.com

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