“A lot of them probably never get this type of treatment,” said former New York Knicks player John Starks, holding court at a rather unexpected location on Wednesday evening: Men’s Wearhouse in Manhattan’s Midtown East. He was referring to a group of young men who had arrived at the store to be fitted for suits ahead of the Garden of Dreams Prom on April 14, where 100 teenagers facing obstacles like homelessness, poverty and illness will come together for an evening of dinner and dancing at Madison Square Garden.
The Garden of Dreams Foundation will host the second annual event. Founded in 2006, the organization outfits every teen who attends the prom — head-to-toe — with the help of Men’s Wearhouse and Macy’s. On event day, students will gather at Manhattan’s Affinia Hotel, where Bumble and bumble hairstylists, MAC makeup artists and models — like prom chairwoman and Sports Illustrated model Damaris Lewis — will be on-hand to help them prepare.
“What the foundation does is really putting a smile on these young men’s faces,” Starks said. “It’s very special.” Thinking back on his own prom experience, Starks admitted he didn’t exactly receive the same treatment. “I think I might have worn a button-down shirt or something,” he said with a laugh. “I’ve definitely upgraded since then.”
Brian Polanco, an 18-year-old student at Fannie Lou Hamer Freedom High School, said he was excited to escort his date on prom night, even though he’d already been to a couple of proms before. “To my knowledge I’m the number-two student in my school, and I want to make a difference in my community,” he said. “I want to be an attorney; I’m currently doing an internship with a Supreme Court judge.”
Elsewhere, Cristian Mejia, 16, said he’s interested in computer science. “One day I want to create something for disabled kids, like my little brother,” he said. “I’m looking forward to having fun at prom and trying to make the night special for my date, who I haven’t met yet.”
The foundation also hosts a series of other events leading up to the prom, which allows the teenagers to meet and mingle before the big night. Kelvin Duran, 15, said the foundation took him to his very first concert recently: Maroon 5. “I met my prom date at the show,” he said.
Over at Macy’s Herald Square, a similar shopping event was unfolding on the fourth floor — but for the girls. Model Eleni Tsavousis was on hand to help them pick out dresses, jewelry and shoes.
Seventeen-year-old Manisha Perman and 18-year-old Ray Jean Brannon, both students at Fannie Lou Hamer Freedom High School, said they were most excited about making the night memorable. Perman was wearing a hot pink strapless number with crystal accents, while Brannon, who wants to be a mechanical engineer, was opting for a navy blue suit.
“I feel most comfortable in this dress,” Perman said. “I love when you try on a dress, and you’re like, ‘Yes, this is it.’”
Tashana Victor, an 18-year-old student at Manhattan Center for Science and Mathematics High School who hopes to one day become a dental hygienist, had her eye on a light pink gown. “They’re doing everything for us,” she said. “You feel like you’re really special, like you’re a star.”