Princess for a Day

  • Melissa Hart

 

Once a year, A Family for Every Child, an Oregon-based nonprofit that works to place foster children in permanent homes, hosts its Princess for a Day fundraiser. For $50, participants get pampered and primped, glittered and gifted with goody bags and gowns and an elegant tea followed by ice cream sundaes and a dance with a handsome prince from a college fraternity. Kids in foster care get to attend for free.

"This is stupid," a teen in glasses muttered to her friend as she entered a conference room full of perfumed beauticians wielding curling irons. I, too, had my doubts. Not every girl wants to be a princess, and these teens looked old enough to grasp the fact that a morning of splendor can't erase neglect, hunger and fear.

Still, as the slouching teen chose a plastic silver tiara from the sparkling selection on a table, I found myself hoping for magical transformation.

Hairspray fizzled through the room like fairy dust, and Disney heroines crooned from a boom box as a stylist swept up curls. Twin five-year olds in white sundresses sat at the table beside the teen, rigid and unsmiling as two women spun their chocolate-brown bobs into ringlets. Under other circumstances, laughter and squeals might have filled the room. The young faces around me looked solemn.

Oregon has over 10,000 foster children, separated from their biological families because of drug addiction, mental illness and poverty. Some return home but others -- about 25 percent -- find themselves legally relinquished by parents and shuttled between foster families and residential treatment centers until they turn 18. It is these children that A Family for Every Teen serves, with the goal of offering them stability and support.

I followed the slouching teen, her curls momentarily tamed beneath a tiara, to another room full of donated prom dresses and party shoes. The teenager yanked an armful of gowns off a rack and paused to glance at a woman who helped a little girl zip up a pink frock. "Thank you, Mommy." At the sound of the child¹s voice, the teen snorted and disappeared into a makeshift dressing room, kicking her jeans out from under the curtain with one bare foot.

I wondered if her story resembled what a young woman in foster care told me a few years back. "Natalie Rose" had agreed to talk with me about her experience for a magazine article. She recounted how she¹d lived in 10 different foster homes over 11 years, and was just four when her mother dropped her off at a local residence for children in crisis: "My mom came over and gave me a backpack and a purple hat with Scooby Doo on it, and she left me there. She said, 'Here, I might not ever see you again.' So I went into foster care."

The teen with the omnipresent scowl emerged from the dressing room in a black and white polka dot sheath and green fairy wings. Volunteers applauded; they and donors devote weeks, and sometimes months to ensure the success of Princess for a Day. Each girl gets to keep her dress, shoes, and accessories. Professional photographers provide each participant with a portrait mounted in a gilt-edged cardboard frame. I wondered if girls display the pictures proudly on a bedside table or tuck them away at the bottom of a dresser, a bittersweet memento.

The slouching teen watched as her blond friend, who'd exchanged a stained miniskirt for a short satin dress, sat for her portrait with a queenly ferocity. Then both girls ventured into the ballroom where a young man in a tuxedo announced their names into a microphone. At linen-covered tables surrounding a dance floor, girls dined with their caretakers on tiny ham and cheese sandwiches and Rice Krispies petit fours.  A sorority girl danced with three devoted handmaidens to Sleeping Beauty's "Once Upon a Dream." Overcome by ballads and hot fudge, a taffeta-bound toddler squalled.

Not every girl wants to be a princess.  But given the chance, even the most reluctant among over 400,000 foster children in this country may discover royalty.  As I left the ballroom, the bespectacled teen in fairy wings pushed past me and collapsed in the photographer¹s chair in front of a Grecian backdrop. Her lips twisted into a sarcastic smile as she stared down at her sparkly green flip-flops. "Sit up," the photographer urged. "Smile."

Suddenly, the young woman straightened and drew her shoulders back. She looked into the camera and flashed a saucy grin, revealing a missing back tooth along with a heart-wrenching, diaphanous hope.

Melissa Hart is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News (hcn.org). She is the author of the memoir, Gringa: A Contradictory Girlhood, and teaches for the School of Journalism and Communication at the University of Oregon.

Note: the opinions expressed in this column are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of High Country News, its board or staff. If you'd like to share an opinion piece of your own, please write Betsy Marston at [email protected].

High Country News Classifieds
  • DEAN, W. A. FRANKE COLLEGE OF FORESTRY AND CONSERVATION, UNIVERSITY OF MONTANA
    Dean, W. A. Franke College of Forestry and Conservation, apply http://bit.ly/2548umjobs. AA/EEO/ADA/Veterans Preference Employer
  • GRAPHIC DESIGNER
    Western Resource Advocates (WRA) seeks a creative and driven graphic design professional to design high quality print and digital collateral. The Graphic Designer will bring...
  • STEWARDSHIP SPECIALIST
    San Isabel Land Protection Trust seeks experienced person to manage its 133 conservation easements in south-central Colorado.
  • CAMPAIGN REPRESENTATIV
    Sierra Club's Beyond Dirty Fuels Campaign is hiring an experienced campaigner to lead our work challenging the oil and fracked gas industry on the Gulf...
  • AG LANDS PROGRAM DIRECTOR
    Oregon Agricultural Trust (OAT) seeks passionate relationship builder experienced in coordinating agricultural conservation easement transactions.
  • REMOTE SITKA ALASKA FLOAT HOUSE VACATION RENTAL
    Vacation rental located in calm protected waters 8 miles from Sitka, AK via boat with opportunities to fish and view wildlife. Skiff rental also available.
  • FINANCE DIRECTOR
    Mountain Studies Inst (MSI) is hiring 4+ positions: Finance Director; Coms/Engagmnt Mngr; Dev/Engagmnt Dir; Americorps vol
  • COMMUNICATIONS AND ENGAGEMENT MANAGER
    Mountain Studies Inst (MSI) is hiring 4+ positions: Finance Director; Dev/Engagement Dir; Coms/Engagement Mngr; & Americorps volunteer
  • SEASONAL TRAIL CREW LEADERS
    Lead the nation's premier volunteer-based trail crew programs on the spectacular Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail. This is a great career-building opportunity for rising professionals....
  • ORGANIZING AND TRAINING COORDINATOR
    Is this your dream job? Are you looking to join a nationally recognized organizing network, live in a spectacular part of the West, and work...
  • DEVELOPMENT AND ADVOCACY DIRECTOR
    Provide stewardship and protection for the Great Burn wildlands along the Montana-Idaho stateline. This position is based in Missoula, MT, where a river runs through...
  • DEVELOMENT DIRECTOR
    Great Old Broads for Wilderness is seeking a qualified Development Director to manage the fundraising success of our growing organization, including the team-driven implementation of...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Central Oregon LandWatch is seeking an Executive Director to advance our mission and oversee the development of the organization. Job Description: The Executive Director oversees...
  • LISA MACKEY PHOTOGRAPHY
    Fine Art Gicle Printing. Photo papers, fine art papers, canvas. Widths up to 44". Art printing by an artist.
  • SAN JUAN BASIN ENERGY CAMPAIGN ORGANIZER
    San Juan Citizens Alliance is seeking a full-time San Juan Energy Campaign Organizer located in Farmington, New Mexico. The San Juan Energy Campaign Organizer focuses...
  • WILDLIFE PROGRAM MANAGER
    San Juan Citizens Alliance (SJCA) is looking for a passionate, experienced, and motivated Wildlife Program Manager to lead campaigns to protect and enhance wildlife and...
  • GRANT WRITER
    "This thriving citizens organization exemplifies the ideal of public involvement in public processes."- Billings Gazette Help protect Montana's water quality, family farms and ranches, &...
  • COMMUNITY ORGANIZER AND MEMBERSHIP COORDINATOR
    Western Colorado Alliance is hiring for 4 positions, 2 Full Time Community Organizers, 1 Part Time Community Organizer and a Part Time Membership Coordinator. For...
  • BUSINESS OPERATIONS DIRECTOR
    Thorne Nature Experience is looking for a Business Operations Director who will work in partnership with the Executive Director and Thorne's Directors and Managers to...
  • WILDERNESS CONSERVATION CORPS - OREGON
    The Siskiyou Mountain Club is hiring interns for the 2020 Field Season. Interns utilize non-mechanized tools to complete trail restoration and maintenance while gaining job...