Alberta skateboarders to take 120 prom dresses to Mexico for exploited girls

Skateboarders in Medicine Hat, Alta., are collecting dozens of donated prom gowns to take all the way to Mexico and give to exploited teens who might not otherwise have dresses for a traditional coming-of-age ceremony.

Young women will wear the gowns at their quinceanera coming-of-age celebrations

Davie James, left, and Austin Jones of the Medicine Hat Skateboard Association get silly during grad dress preparation last week. (Betsy Morales)

A group of skateboarders in Medicine Hat, Alta., is learning all about prom dresses as their clubhouse is being flooded with dozens of sparkly gowns — which they're planning to take all the way to Mexico and donate to exploited teen girls to help them celebrate their quinceanera.

By Monday morning, the Medicine Hat Skateboard Association had received 169 donated prom dresses — more than its 120 dress-goal — destined to be worn by teenage girls in Mexico.

The girls live at a safe house run by a couple from Alberta, and many of the girls have had difficult lives marked by sexual exploitation, drug use, prostitution or neglect. They don't have families to organize a major cultural event, such as the quinceanera, which marks when a girl turns 15.

"They have to celebrate these coming of age parties alone and it's a very sad thing, so they try to do it as a community the best they can," organizer Levi Switzer told the Calgary Eyeopener on Monday.

Levi Switzer tells us about the club's unusual mission to provide Quinceanera dresses to girls in a Mexican safe house. 8:15

The skateboarding groups, made up of mostly teenage boys, some girls and a few young adults, is heading to Mexico on Friday to help build an extension to the safe house. They've raised $10,000 for the project and are set to bus from Medicine Hat to get there.

Thirty-five people are going on a bus ride to Mexico with the Medicine Hat Skateboard Association this Friday. (Terence Kowalchuk/Medicine Hat Skateboarding Association)

Switzer was first struck with the idea to bring dresses to the girls during a trip to Mexico last month. He was there to look at the safe home, called Casa Esther, before construction begins.

"It's a mix of emotions when you're down there," Switzer said. "It's this beacon of hope but it's also such a heartful, heavy thing to kind of carry and walk, to look at these girls in the eyes and know that they've lived more life than I hope I never see."

The safe house opened in 2010 in the coastal city of Ensenada, Baja California, Mexico. It's run by Randy and Sandra Huebert from Lloydminster, Alta., who provide a home for girls as young as six who've been sexually exploited. The expansion will mean the Hueberts can double how many girls they can accommodate.

Levi Switzer, a member of the Medicine Hat Skateboard Club, is helping to organize a trip to Mexico. (CBC)

On a tour of the facility, staff showed Switzer their "dress room," where they keep the dresses safe from the girls, who have gotten old ones muddy by wearing them during soccer games.

When he returned to Canada, the group posted a shout-out for old prom dresses on Facebook. Hundreds of shares later, the group had collected dozens of the colourful, often bejewelled dresses.

They have so many, they had to also ask for suitcases to pack up the poofy dresses.

"They don't pack smaller," Switzer said, laughing. "They're very large."

They've collected so many dresses, they're going to donate some to local Medicine Hat organizations, and the home in Mexico will share extras with other women's organizations.

The teens at the Medicine Hat Skateboard Association had to ask for suitcase donations because they didn't have room in their own luggage for all the 120 poofy dresses. (Betsy Morales)

The teens and young adults were hoping to pack the room for a quinceanera while in town, but none of the girls turn 15 while they're on spring break next week.

"We're just a group of skateboarders so we know nothing about dresses, let alone about what we're about to do," Switzer said. "It's just going to be a really good time."

The skateboard association tries to teach its members about caring for community through charitable acts.

​​With files from Elissa Carpenter and the Calgary Eyeopener.