A Malibu resident founded the group, Wishful Thinking, to provide girls from foster care and low-income areas with free new prom gowns and footwear throughout April and May so they may attend one of the highlights of a teen’s high school experience.
By Crystal Luong/Special to The Malibu Times
Prom-a dance that ranks among the highlights of a teen’s high school experience. Wishful Thinking-an all-volunteer nonprofit group that aims to make prom special for dozens of underprivileged girls across Los Angeles County.
The group, founded by Malibu resident Michael Ludin, is providing girls from foster care and low-income areas with complimentary new prom gowns and footwear throughout April and May.
“The prom-dress drive gives girls who might otherwise be afraid to attend one of the hallmark events of their adolescence an opportunity to approach the event with hope, pride and dignity,” said Jonathan Byers, a Department of Children and Family Services social worker, who often refers cases to Ludin for assistance.
At Wishful Thinking’s downtown Los Angeles office, the girls handpick the formal dresses and shoes that best match their fashion visions.
Ludin, a child advocate for more than 10 years now, said he recognized the limited resources available to social workers and sought to start a program that could help meet needs. DCFS reported more than 38,000 caseloads in January for children receiving welfare services.
“Though DCFS does what it can and many social workers do more, the fact of the matter is that funds are limited for new gowns, shoes, prom tickets, after prom stuff and flowers,” Ludin said. “And the thought of kids missing out on this important rite of passage was disturbing. We found donors and got the word out and are now in our third year.”
The prom-dress drive covers one dimension among Wishful Thinking’s ongoing projects. Since its conception in 2002, the organization also has distributed thousands of pairs of free shoes to children through its Sole Support Project, and the Starfish Project grants wishes ranging from Disneyland tickets to celebrity meet-and-greets for those in foster care. On the legal level, Ludin handles guardian-ad-litem work, in which he and other volunteers represent the interests of children in Dependency Court.
Wishful Thinking’s benevolent programs serve as a means, Ludin said, for tempering the child abuse and neglect cases he regularly encounters, as not all results are tangible.
“The successes are my encouragement,” he said. “Not the successes by any measures you’d see, but knowing innately, as a survivor of a hideous and abusive childhood myself, that I am getting through.”
Those who have worked on cases with Ludin characterize him by persistence in efforts to aid the county’s at-risk adolescents.
“He’s a straight shooter,” said Darryn Gum, a fellow child advocate and local lawyer. “He’s a strong advocate. He doesn’t take no for an answer.”
Wishful Thinking is expected to donate more than 100 dresses to inner-city girls this spring. One memory from last year’s drive about a young girl stays fresh in Ludin’s mind and keeps him going.
Stephanie thought no one would ask her and didn’t care about the prom because if a guy asked her she would have nothing “cool” to wear, Ludin said. But he kept a few dresses in her size just in case.
“With just days to go, Stephanie was able to come in and get a gown,” Ludin said. “And because she was such a good soul, we gave her some money for the after prom. I got the nicest personal card recounting the magical evening that ‘I made possible.’
“And the truth is, with her enthusiasm, she made my week of working a really tough case possible to get through.”
With Wishful Thinking’s supporters, who represent a spectrum of people who donate time and money, Ludin intends to better the services of his organization.
“Wishful Thinking will continue to meet the needs of foster youth, homeless youth and at-risk youth, however they need it,” Ludin said. “Whether it’s through one of the benevolent programs that grants wishes, distributes prom dresses and shoes, advocacy or whatever comes along and is not done by the county or others.”
The prom-dress drive is currently short on fancy footwear, and the organization welcomes any donations in cash or kind to fill the need.
More information about Wishful Thinking can be found at www.4wishfulthinking.org or by calling 213.747.8821.