GRAND PRAIRIE -- Many teenage girls see themselves as fashionistas, but girls placed in foster care often leave home with just the clothes on their back.

Now, a North Texas woman is helping fill their closets with clothes and their hearts with hope.

Inside her Grand Prairies home and surrounded by racks of dresses, Ericka Ellis remembers how as a child in foster care she sometimes wore the same few outfits repeatedly.

'And when I was taken out of the home, I wasn't able to say, 'Wait, let me go get my favorite dress,'' Ellis said.

She was eight years old when her mother's drug addiction led to years of being bounced from foster home to foster home.

'I've been sexually abused,' she said. 'I've been around drug dealers, you know, coming in my room touching me, and left outside to sleep in the park.'

These are intimate details that other people might try to cover up, but Ellis shares freely.

She went to college, got married, and had a child. Memories from her painful past became the inspiration for Think. Love. Smart., her non- profit organization which mentors girls in foster care.

The clothes, some brand new, were donated so that other girls whose favorite dresses were left behind can have clothes and confidence.

'So they get to go shopping -- what girls like to do,' Ellis said. 'So yeah, they get to shop the racks and have fun.'

More than a dozen girls pick what they want until it's all gone, but what they pick up from Ericka is living proof that they don't have to be just another statistic.

'I tell them that's not true,' Ellis said. 'You have the power to have a great life.'

Nina Vong is one of the girls Ellis mentors.

'I went into foster care when I was 12,' Vong said. '[Ericka] told me everything that happened to her when she was a little girl. You have people talking about you, saying your mom don't want you. She just gave me wings.'

This weekend, sixteen girls who received new clothes will model their new outfits in 'Stride, Strive, and Strut,' a fashion show fundraiser for Think. Love. Smart. It will be held this Saturday at 5 p.m. at the Potter's House recreational facility. Tickets can be purchased at this link.


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