For the last couple of years, a school bus driver in Florida City has made prom possible for dozens of teenage girls in South Miami-Dade.
Regina Talabert spends a lot of time making calls and sending emails requesting donations of lightly used or new formal dresses leading up to prom season.
On a recent Saturday, the fruit of her work is on display inside the community room at City Church in Homestead, which has been transformed into a pop-up prom shop where everything is free.
“Just to see kids come and dress up for their prom, 8th grade and 12th [graders]. This is what I would have been doing for my daughter," she said.
Talabert created the free prom shop in memory of her 17-year old daughter, who was shot and killed just months before she could attend her senior prom in 2017.
Noricia Talabert was dropping off a friend at home when she got caught in the crossfire of a shooting.
“Through the tragedy and the pain this is how I get my enjoyment,” her mom said. “Out of helping somebody else's child.”
In the church, racks of sparkling, fluffy, long gown and short dresses line the floor. A table showcases glittering accessories and high heels pumps of all sizes are on display.
Lijedaho Ruiz, a middle school teacher at Somerset Oaks Academy, was helping four of her 8th graders pick out the perfect dress for prom. She said the store serves an important community need for students who otherwise wouldn’t go to prom.
“They work really hard the entire year but unfortunately the parents do not have the means to pay for what they need for the prom,” said Ruiz.
Ruiz didn’t know the backstory to the prom shop when she arrived, then she saw Noricia’s poster-sized photo on an easel.
Noricia was one of her former students. She attended her funeral at this same church.
“It was very difficult,” said Ruiz. “When you have a student that is a star student and you know that she’s going to do good and she’s going to do so many things, you don’t understand why. Why?”
Her students notice she is crying, but when they ask her why she quickly wipes her tears and jokes it’s because they hadn't chosen a dress yet.
Then she tells them.
“You guys don’t know about Noricia. I will tell you who is Noricia. She was an amazing girl,” said Ruiz.
A few steps away, Ashley Grullon is beaming at her daughter.
“It fits her perfect.”
Grullon thanks Talabert for creating this shop.
“I’m a mom that is overwhelmed. This is a blessing for me because a lot of mothers would like to spend a lot of money and go all out for their kids, but we don’t have it,” said Grullon.
Regina Talabert says the prom shop is one of the highlights of her year and it’s also how she tries to keep her own sadness at bay when she thinks about her daughter, who didn’t make it to prom.
“I know she would have loved this here,” says Talabert as she pulls a dress for an 8th grader. “I feel close to her when I’m doing this."