Teen collects formal attire for foster children’s prom

Teen collects formal attire for foster children’s prom

Mount Saint Charles Academy sophomore Ava Sangiovanni stands beside her family’s donations to “Hope’s Closet,” the charity the 15-year-old started to collect formalwear for foster children. (Breeze photos by Jacquelyn Moorehead)

SMITHFIELD –With prom season approaching, local teenager Ava Sangiovanni teamed up with Smithfield Police Chief Richard St. Sauveur to collect formal attire for Rhode Island’s foster children.

Sangiovanni, a sophomore at Mount Saint Charles Academy in Woonsocket, says she feels fortunate that she and her friends don’t have the worry that some other students face when acquiring dresses, shoes and accessories.

“I feel like the kids who don’t have the opportunity, just for them to have a night where they can feel confident and beautiful, I think everyone should have that,” the 15-year-old said.

The idea for “Hope’s Closet” was born. She said it’s a way to donate prom dresses and suits to children in foster care situations. Donations of gently used semi-formal and formal dresses and accessories as well as suits and jackets will be accepted at the Smithfield Police Department from Feb. 5 through Feb. 28.

Sangiovanni said her friends at school are interested in making donations.

“A lot of girls are saying that they wear their dress once and never have a use for it again,” she said. “I’ll be donating mine.”

She and her mother, Maria Sangiovanni, joined with Development Director Christina Jagolinzer of Foster Forward, a Providence-based nonprofit offering support and services for foster children, teens, and families.

Jagolinzer said a similar program ran last year and every donated item was put to use. She said the program, along with donated hair and makeup from area salons, creates opportunity that foster children don’t always get.

“When you’re my age, and you start to look back on life, those are the memories that you cherish,” Jagolinzer said about prom. “Those aren’t necessarily the memories that our kids have, to be able to enjoy a night out and enjoy that is kind of what the state is working toward, and we call ‘normalcy.’”

“And that’s what you’re doing, you’re providing normalcy to a group of kids that don’t have someone doing that for them,” Jagolinzer said.

Jagolinzer said there is a constant need for items in the foster system, and the organization serves more than 300 youths in group homes. She said the donations would go to children in grades 6 and 7, up through high school.

Sangiovanni’s mother said she and her daughter would continue the program after this year, and continue it as long as there is a need.

“We want to collect as many as we can, even if we only serve half of what she’s (Jagolinzer) got,” Sangiovanni said. “We’ll just keep collecting them and doing as much as we can.”

The Smithfield residents are working with longtime family friend St. Sauveur, who first found out about the Ava’s charity during a dinner with the Sangiovannis.

“Ava is a great, great kid. Always has been,” he said.

Once he heard of her plans, St. Sauveur said he knew he wanted to make the station a drop-off location for the charity. One of Ava’s classrooms will also have a rack for donations.

“I immediately began thinking about how I could help as the chief in the town she lives in,” said St. Sauveur. “I was thinking of ways that I could help out.”

He said similar programs in the past were successful, and he is confident that “Hope’s Closet” will be successful as well.

Sangiovanni collaborated with her father to come up with the name for the charity, thinking about the students who want to go to prom, but may not be able to attend.

“I wanted to name it something closet, because I thought that was a cool idea,” she added. “My dad actually said ‘Hope’s Closet’ because of Rhode Island and the kids that hope they can go.”

Police Chief Richard St. Sauveur and sophomore Ava Sangiovanni are working together to collect donations of prom formalwear to go to foster children.