The church’s auditorium looked like a scene straight out of a fairytale.
Light blue and silver decorations painted the space, from the centerpieces to the tablecloths. Twinkling garlands hung from the ceiling. With her blue Cinderella dress on, Laura* was finally experiencing one of the dreams she had been looking forward to her whole life: to have a Quinceañera.
Now living in a foster home, Laura had assumed this lifelong dream, like too many others, was out of reach.
For many in the Latino/a/x community like Laura, turning 15 is more than a birthday. It’s a rite of passage, a moment to celebrate a girl’s transition towards womanhood, and a connection to heritage.
The idea sprouted when advocates with CASA Child Advocates of Montgomery County started wondering if they could do something special for the girls they were serving who were about to turn 15. Melissa Anderson, a case supervisor, noticed there were four girls with Latino/a/x heritage turning 15 within a year. She reached out to the girls’ advocates to ask them if they wanted to do something special for their big birthday. Only Laura said yes — and she got much more than a cake.
CASA Child Advocates of Montgomery County wanted to make sure they treated this occasion with the respect it deserved. Executive Director Ann Marie Ronsman reached out to a friend with Latino/a/x heritage who was very familiar with the event and walked Melissa through how a Quinceañera was supposed to be: the traditions of the dance, the dress, the flowers and the multi-tiered cake.
Melissa wanted Laura to have agency over her own party and to not feel like it was another group of people making decisions for her, especially when it came to the particular traditions and customs of her Mexican culture.
“A big part of the night was making sure she didn’t feel like a ‘project,’ but rather that she was seen for the amazing young lady that she is,” Melissa said.
Melissa reached out to different advocates—an event planner, a makeup artist. Suddenly, Laura’s Quinceañera became a loving community effort. In the span of four weeks, the whole CASA program pitched in to throw her the party she had long wished for. At the end of the day, every advocate Melissa asked for help said a big, enthusiastic “yes.” Someone donated the dress, another advocate donated the cake. The makeup artist came in and got Laura and her whole family ready. The only thing paid for by CASA Child Advocates of Montgomery County was the food, which Laura really wanted to be authentic Mexican food, as she had been missing it for quite some time. Even then, another advocate helped Melissa communicate with the restaurant staff in Spanish.
The area was set: the music was on, the buffet was served. Next to the cake, a wish jar filled with wishes from Laura’s family and friends waited to be read. Everyone was chatting and dancing. Any worry Melissa had about how the evening might go disappeared from her mind.
The whole room applauded while Laura did her introductory entrance. She received her “last doll,” while Melissa explained the meaning behind that gift.
Laura spent the whole evening with her soon-to-be adoptive family. Many members of her new family traveled long hours just to join the special occasion. In a sense, the Quinceañera also became a celebration of her joining their family: Laura had the father-daughter dance with her soon-to-be adoptive father.
The guests repeated words of support in a call-and-response with Melissa. Every guest in the room promised they would support Laura as she grows into an adult. She was surrounded with all the love she deserves.
Throughout the night, Laura teared up and relished in her evening. It was as if a full circle moment formed that day: from the day Laura came into foster care, towards the end of her foster care journey.
“I guarantee that child’s face hurt when she went home, because she would not stop smiling,” Melissa said.
*Name changed for privacy.