4 • THE CHRONICLE OF PHILANTHROPY
MAY 19, 2011
A Los Angeles Charity
Gives Needy Girls Some
By Michelle Gienow
EVERY MONTH in Los Angeles County, more than 800 children who have been abused or neglect- ed are removed from their parents’ custody
and put in foster care. After that, until adulthood, all
their major life decisions—such as where they live
and go to school—must be approved by a judge. So a
less than life-or-death detail such as the high-school
prom might slip through the cracks.
“Youths in foster care can’t take for granted some
of our society’s basic rites of passage, like prom
night,” says Dilys Tosteson Garcia, executive director
of Court Appointed Special Advocates for Children of
Los Angeles, or CASA/LA.
The charity’s main mission is to recruit, train, and
support volunteers (currently, 300 of them) who advocate for the nearly 25,000 foster children under court
jurisdiction in Los Angeles. In the course of regular
visits with the children they assist, CASA/LA volunteers frequently become the most stable adult presence in a foster child’s life—and, often, the only one
not paid to care for them.
And one day each year, the volunteers also get to
play fairy godmother.
For the past 10 years, CASA/LA has organized a
“Glamour Gowns” event to make sure that girls in
foster care are granted what Ms. Tosteson Garcia
calls “a true princess prom experience.”
During last month’s Glamour Gowns event, 200
volunteers worked to transform a Los Angeles Con-
vention Center ballroom into a one-stop prom shop.
More than 400 girls were paired with individual
“dressers,” who helped each one pick out the perfect
brand-new formal gown and then coordinate it with
undergarments, shoes, purses, and jewelry. Hair styl-
ists and makeup artists were also on hand to prepare
the girls for the biggest night of their high-school
All the gowns, accessories, and services were donated by Los Angeles designers Masquerade, Chinese Laundry, Jenette Bras, and Smashbox Cosmetics, among others.
Although CASA/LA’s $1.7-million annual budget
comes from a combination of government and private
support, its Glamour Gowns program is financed
separately, with major contributions, including a
$10,000 grant from Share (a philanthropic organization formed by women in the entertainment industry)
and $30,000 raised by the 10-woman, all-volunteer
Glamour Gowns operating committee.
“It’s wonderful for the girls who receive this head-to-toe transformation,” says Ms. Tosteson Garcia.
“But it’s also wonderful for CASA’s volunteers, who
can work so hard on difficult, distressing, and enduring situations. The energy in that room, when all
those young women see all those beautiful dresses—
it’s just phenomenal. These are young kids that are
for the most part pretty cynical; their expectations
“But the smiles on the faces of these girls when
they see themselves in the mirror—their spirits
are sky-high, and they take yours right along with
Here, Roxanne Macias emerges in her prom dress.
Photograph by Denise Malone