High schoolers gather for a makeover at the Olayate Group on the Grand Concourse on June 20. Photo: Alex Krales.

Fifteen Bronx teens got the full prom experience today, without paying a penny. The high schoolers from Crotona International High School in the northern Bronx received a full makeover, including hair, makeup, dresses, and shoes at the main space of the nonprofit Oyate Group on the Grand Concourse, before being chauffeured to the festivities by New York City police. 

Three stylists volunteered to help the young people look their best, and a bridal shop contributed the dresses. Instead of a limousine, the new graduates arrived in NYPD vans.

“This is like one big superhero power team,” said Victor Matos, co-founder of one of the organizations behind the event. “It doesn’t work without everyone doing a part,” he said, noting the different people who had volunteered their time and resources, from the bridal shop that contributed dresses to the makeup artists and police officers who volunteered their time.

“It’s just one big heroic effort,” Matos added. “These kids will not ever forget this.”

Victor Matos, along with his wife Rosaly, is the co-founder of the MOS Athletic League, a nonprofit volleyball league for teenagers in the South Bronx. But the name has a double meaning, Victor says: It can stand for “Matters of Sports” or “Members of Service.” In addition to sports, the organization also runs toy drives and helps kids learn about their opportunities for schools and scholarships. 

The end-of-year prom represents an important rite of passage for high school seniors as they transition to adulthood. But it is also their first experience with adult expenses: a typical prom outfit can cost hundreds of dollars, not to mention the costs of hair and makeup.

“It’s our senior year, so finding money for college and prom and all of the outfits is so stressful,” said eighteen-year-old Joshua Decamps, who wore a stunning white suit and black shoes. “Out here there’s not a lot of people who want to help you without asking anything in return.” 

The MOS League hosted their first prom event seven years ago, for ten students at Crotona International High School in . After a long break, they decided to restart the event, at a different high school every year. 

That meant finding businesses willing to donate their resources to make the prom dream a reality.  “We thought we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to help these students,” said Anthony Micari, owner of Bridal Reflections, which contributed a selection of dresses.  “Prom to these girls is everything. It’s a huge milestone to their lives.” 

Three makeup artists also volunteered, like Vanessa Rodriguez, who has done makeup for the past sixteen years. Normally she charges up to $65 for prom makeup, which can take half an hour to 45 minutes. “It’s good to give back,” she said.

Students had to participate in an essay contest to participate. But the contest was an easy one: anyone who submitted an essay got the full prom experience.

The event was hosted at the offices of Oyate Group, a nonprofit that was founded in 2020 to counter the impact of COVID-19 pandemic on New York’s marginalized communities. The organization mainly works to provide meals and curb gun violence. Now, they are also using their space to help graduates prepare for the special day.

Photo: Alex Krales.

“It means a lot,” said Lymarie Francisco, project manager at Oyate Group. “Even for undocumented students or anybody from a different culture. It’s like preparing for a wedding, it’s  a day that you will never forget for the rest of your life.” 

Some of the students said that they were inspired to help other people realize their dreams in the future. “We have been talking about prom since the start of senior year,” said Emily Paulino, who’s still deciding between CUNY’s Lehman and City Colleges. “ In the future I would love to work on something like this, to help kids, to have a great night to have fun.”

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