Marisa West, Broadsheet role model of the day

The high school senior collected racks of dresses for New Orleans teenagers to wear to the prom. Pretty cool.


Page Rockwell
May 12, 2006 9:00PM (UTC)

Today's Washington Post has an inspiring profile of Miss D.C. National Teenager Marisa West, who set out to collect 100 donated prom dresses to send to teenagers in hurricane-ravaged New Orleans, and ended up sending 2,800 -- enough to outfit students at 10 Gulf Coast high schools.

West's bright idea drew support from Americans eager to provide tangible assistance to New Orleans residents and women happy to offload bridesmaid's dresses and prom get-ups they wore only once. Donations, including jewelry, shoes, bags, computers and Vera Wang dresses, flooded in from 49 states. One man even donated his late wife's evening gown as a tribute to her.

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The Post profile bubbles over with you-go-girl spirit: West goes down to New Orleans to visit the students before the prom and a gym full of teenagers cheers her; a small woman-owned jewelry company makes 100 pairs of earrings for the event; donation recipients vie for the chance to wear a frothy pink number called the "Cupcake." I'm usually a little cynical about proms, but reading about girls who longed for the all-American, hyperfeminine ritual of dressing up but knew their parents couldn't afford the expense, I'm just thrilled that they got what they wanted. The pitch-in-and-make-do mood as the promgoers put their outfits together reads like something out of "Little Women."

It may be corny, but the most moving part of West's story is that she set out to help people and did so. Certainly, her position as a pageant winner and the media attention her do-gooder tendencies garnered helped make the project possible, but it's motivating to see a single idea translate to a successful nationwide effort to reach out to displaced and grieving teens. With the federal government still slacking off when it comes to disaster relief, it's a comfort that even in a small way, the sisters are doing it for themselves.


Page Rockwell

Page Rockwell is Salon's editorial project manager.

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