HOSCHTON - Tori Rodriguez remembers how her simple act of lending a pair of high-heeled shoes and some jewelry to a neighbor who was in foster care helped make the girl's prom special.
So when the former Miss Junior Mill Creek was challenged by her pageant director to participate in a community service project, Rodriguez decided to collect gowns to help other girls in foster care attend the high school dance.
Although Rodriguez expected her Prom-o-rama drive to be a schoolwide event, she said eight other Gwinnett County schools and several community members collected gently used prom, homecoming, pageant and bridesmaids dresses. In all, about 160 dresses and nearly 150 accessories will be donated to the Foster Children's Foundation, a nonprofit organization based in Gwinnett County.
Rodriguez was honored Tuesday at her school when she was named the Foster Children's Foundation's Volunteer of the Year by Suzanne Geske, the organization's founder.
"Tori is a prime example of how big of a difference can be made by one person," Geske said. "Usually children come into foster care with only the clothes on their back. A prom dress is something special, and many (children in foster care) wouldn't have the opportunity to go to a prom or a dance without the help of people like you."
Georgia's first lady also visited Mill Creek High on Tuesday to welcome the school as the newest "Champion for Children."
Perdue has been traveling the state as she honors groups that have shown superior efforts in volunteerism. Her "Our Children Campaign" is designed to increase collaboration between state agencies and community groups and to encourage volunteerism on behalf of abused and neglected children.
Mary Perdue said Prom-o-rama "will give young girls an opportunity to participate in prom night, one of the most exciting evenings in high school."
After the awards presentation, Perdue conducted a brief interview with Winder Community Television, which is producing a documentary on foster care that they hope will air on the Public Broadcasting Station.
Perdue stressed the need for more people to become involved with the foster care system. She used Mill Creek's Prom-o-rama as an example.
"It seems like such a simple thing," she said. "It makes a huge difference in the lives of these young ladies."
Rodriguez said she hopes Perdue's visit will encourage students to continue the project.
Her mother, Lisa Rodriguez, teaches Spanish at Mill Creek and helped with the dress drive. She invited Mill Creek students who have been active in community service to attend Tuesday's presentation.
"This allows students to see other adults place importance on what they've done," she said.
As for the Prom-o-rama project, Lisa Rodriguez said the drive showed her daughter's giving nature.
"Tori has always been a kind person," she said. "This shows the kindness of her heart. ... I'm very proud of her."