Moved by school tragedy, community comes together to give Parkland seniors a prom to remember

Posted at 12:46 PM, May 05, 2018
and last updated 2018-05-05 12:47:11-04

(CNN) -- Less than three months after a gunman walked into Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, killing 17 students and teachers, seniors on Saturday night will celebrate their prom -- with a little help from their community.

The event will entail all the hallmarks of a typical American prom: eye-grabbing decorations, lots of flowers and a dance floor packed with students dressed to the nines.

"We definitely want students to just walk in there and just be like, 'wow,' " senior class president Julia Cordover told CNN affiliate WPLG. "Definitely sparkles. Definitely popping colors."

Still, the Parkland, Florida, high school prom will be far from ordinary.

Not only will it be held under tight security, but there will be a tribute honoring the lives of Nicholas Dworet, Joaquin Oliver, Carmen Schentrup and Meadow Pollack, the four seniors killed during the February 14 massacre.

Students also will remember two other classmates who passed away before the shooting.

"It's going to be the first thing they see when they walk in and it will be nice to remember them that way," senior class vice president Lauren Hetzroni told WPLG.

With some students still grieving and emotions running high, local businesses, vendors and community members have come together to offer products and services at cost or even free of charge, in hopes of relieving students of their burdens -- even if just for a night.


Donated ballroom helps to lower ticket costs


The biggest contribution came from the Westin Fort Lauderdale Beach Resort, which has donated a ballroom and catering for the evening, according to WPLG.

"We knew that the right thing to do was to step up and do something special for them," hotel manager Danny Estevez told the Miami TV station.

When hotel staff notified the owners about the prom, Estevez said, they were told right away the hotel would cover the cost.

The money saved allowed the prom planning committee to charge as little as $30 per ticket -- down from the usual of about $100.

"Everyone deserves it," Cordover told WPLG, "so we just hope that everyone will have a new positive memory for their senior year."


Small businesses step up


Other businesses also stepped up, offering hairstyling, makeup, photography and even prom dresses.

Gabriela Miller, a Marjory Stoneman Douglas alumni and salon and spa owner, said she felt compelled to help out after being shocked about the school shooting.

"This can't be my Douglas," the 2004 graduate recalls thinking. "This is Parkland. How is this happening here?"

"Today," Miller says, "it seems like a bad dream, like a nightmare."

To help ease students' pain, Miller asked her staff to donate their time and services to girls preparing for the prom. They enthusiastically agreed. Before she knew it, other hairstylists and makeup artists in surrounding communities said they'd help, too.

"I couldn't even keep up with the emails and the messages," Miller said.

On Saturday, Miller and dozens of beauty experts will do hair and makeup for more than 230 girls, she said. Her event will also offer spray tans, and a florist company will be on site to donate corsages and boutonnieres.

"Parkland has always been a really close community," Miller said, "but after this, it's just made everyone closer. Everyone is extending a hand out to help."


'Our whole community was affected'


It wasn't just business that donated money, time and energy to help the seniors celebrate. Neighbors also did their part.

Shawn Rosenthal, who lives in Coral Springs, a few miles south of Parkland, said she felt so moved by the attack that she organized a collection to provide free prom dresses to senior girls.

She was in her daughter's closet and saw a number of her old prom dresses when she had the idea to collect and donate the dresses to students of the Parkland high school.

"Our whole community was affected," Rosenthal said. "It was heartbreak for everyone."

Such a community effort, she said, could help the students "heal for a moment."

"They're going through so much right now," Rosenthal said. "I figured they didn't want to go into stores. It's just a lot of stress for them."

Within days, with the help of her friends, they'd collected more than 100 prom dresses of all colors, shapes and sizes. They caught the eye of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Alumni Association, which was also gathering dresses, and pooled their efforts.

Besides donations from the area, Rosenthal said, they also heard from folks in far-flung places such as Washington, California and Massachusetts. Soon, Rosenthal's home was filled with racks and racks of dresses.

On April 17 the women opened a popup shop and gave away the dresses to girls. The leftovers were donated to Becca's Closet, a national nonprofit organization that donates dresses to girls and their families who can't afford them.

The girls were grateful, Rosenthal said, "just to be able to go into a safe space and be able to look around and see beautiful things, not have to worry about something for a minute.

"It was a feel-good moment for the community to remember."

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