Formal Attire Ready helps foster teens afford dresses, tuxedos for prom, graduation, job interviews
By Reggie Ellis @Reggie_SGN
VISALIA – Prom season is here and teenagers all over the county are getting ready to put on their formal dresses and tuxedos in an American adolescent rite of passage. But what about students who can’t afford to buy a dress or rent a tuxedo? What about foster children who may not only lack the funds but the interest by their foster parents?
Luckily for them help isn’t far … it is F.A.R.
Ashley Jaramillo, 30, of Visalia is the founder of Formal Attire Ready (F.A.R.), a non-profit specifically designed to help provide foster youth an opportunity to be dressed appropriately for important events in their lives. The events include major school dances like winter formal or prom, graduation and possibly interviews. The F.A.R. program hopes to provide foster youth with dresses, suits, slacks, ties, shoes, shirts and any other formal attire necessary for the youth to attend an event. The idea is that with assistance from the F.A.R. project, the foster youth will have a higher rate of participation in these events, allowing them to go further in life.
“So many foster teens aren’t able to attend these important moments in time,” she said. “It’s difficult to find the resources for many foster youth to participate in something many people take for granted.”
Jaramillo spent her middle and high school years as a foster youth before being emancipated at the age of 18. Unlike many of her counterparts, Jaramillo became extremely interested in the Independent Living Program (ILP), which helps youth learn life skills to transition out of foster care. Through ILP, Jaramillo had access to a variety of services including mentoring, financial incentives, work skill such as type setting and fieldtrips to colleges and special events. The program also provided referrals to other resources for work, housing, food and clothing.
“They were great about helping me, but a lot of people didn’t know those resources were available,” she said.
ILP continues to be a resource for Jaramillo as a place to identify and connect with foster youth in need of her organization’s unique services. She started FAR as part of her master’s degree project at Fresno Pacific University. So far her start-up non-profit has already helped three teenage girls get pedicures, makeup and dresses and one teenage boy get a hair cut and a tuxedo rental. In addition to being prom and graduation season, May is also National Foster Care Awareness Month. In observance of the month, Jaramillo has set a goal of helping five high school-age foster boys and girls to attend prom or graduation. She is currently seeking donations of gift cards for students to rent or buy formal attire. To donate to FAR, contact Jaramillo by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or calling (559) 740-9925.
“There are so many teens who could use help with prom, and foster youth are at the top of that list,” she said.
FAR got its first major donation when it was awarded $1,000 at the April 11 Visalia SOUP event. Jaramillo was one of four presenters, who each gave a four-minute pitch to describe their idea to those in attendance and answer four questions from the audience. Each idea has been vetted by a committee who selects presentations based on the positive impact the proposal will have on Visalia. Audience members make a donation of $5 that gets them entry into the event, soup, bread and a vote. At the end of the night, ballots are counted and the winner goes home with the pot of money. For more information, call the Visalia Chamber of Commerce at 559-734-5876.