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Ramos Hitches a Ride on the "Prom Dress Express"

By Jerry Phelps
June 2006

Rose Ramos holding a picture and a sketch of prom dresses she
  created for two high school girls in New Orleans, La.
Rose Ramos holding a picture and a sketch of prom dresses she created for two high school girls in New Orleans, La. (Photo by Jerry Phelps)

Rose Ramos heard there was a shortage of prom dresses in the post-Katrina Gulf Coast region. The thought that there might be one young lady who was unable to attend her prom because she couldn't find a dress inspired Ramos to offer her expertise.

In March, Ramos read in the Washington Post about the Prom Dress Express, an effort organized by a high school student in Beltsville, Md. to collect and distribute used prom and pageant dresses to high school students along the Gulf who couldn't find or couldn't afford a dress. The discovery led Ramos to Cabrini High School, an all-girls Catholic school in New Orleans, La. and according to Ramos, one of a few high schools in New Orleans that will even have a prom this year. One-third of the students' families lost all their possessions during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Ramos reached Judy Thompson the school's Guidance Counselor who connected her to Schwanna Eugene and Marilyn Carter; two students who were unable to find dresses that fit or conformed to the school's strict dress code. Working with a long list of measurements, a rough sketch for one dress, and a magazine cut-out for the other, she created two dresses in less than 10 hours and shipped them off to the girls in New Orleans.

Ramos is an experienced seamstress who ran her own custom prom and wedding dress business for 10 years in San Antonio, Texas. She has been carting around left-over material through several moves during the last five years. The business allowed her to quit a full time job, create dresses at night, care for her then-teenage children, and return to school to complete a Bachelor's degree at the University of Texas San Antonio. From there, she went to graduate school at the University of Pittsburgh where she received her Ph.D. She started a post-doctoral fellowship with Ken Olden in October 2005. Ramos' area of expertise is health disparities. During her stay at NIEHS, she will examine the risk of elevated pre-pregnancy body mass index for insulin resistance and the prevalence of pro-inflammatory mediators related to the risk of heart disease and Type 2 diabetes in the expectant mothers and the newborns.

Ramos said, "It took longer for the girls to decide what kind of dresses they wanted than it did for me to sew them." She had a little help from her daughter Michelle, who ironed the panels of fabric prior to Ramos stitching them together. Ramos learned to sew from her mother and grandmother at age ten. A friend who attended design school taught her how to create patterns from sketches and photographs. These days, she sews some for herself and for her four year-old granddaughter Makenzie.

The prom was May 12 and according to letters from Eugene and Carter, the dresses were a stunning success. Both girls expressed their sincere gratitude and Carter invited Ramos to "come to 'The Big Easy' when everything is settled down" to visit with her family. Ramos said, "Preparing for prom is always a crazy time for girls and their moms. I was thrilled to be able to offer relief from some of the craziness and provide some normalcy after the disruption experienced by these Katrina survivors over the last year."

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