In some ways, Lexi Velazquez dreaded her 15th birthday.
Hispanic girls and their families usually spend months preparing for quinceañeras — a coming-of-age party. The event, which takes place on the girl’s 15th birthday, celebrates her transition to young womanhood.
Quinceañeras can be as fussy and frilly as proms with floor-length gowns, flowers, dancing, live entertainment, food and lots of bling.
But Lexi’s 15th birthday held little promise for all that. Her mom, Lynn Velazquez, died unexpectedly in 2016, so Lexi assumed her big day would come and go in relative quiet.
“My dad couldn’t do something like that for me because he had to work,” she said.
As Lexi’s Sept. 16 birthday approached, she shared her angst with Jessica Landry, an Owensboro Middle School theater teacher.
Landry taught Lexi the last semester of the 2019-20 academic year. While students were distance learning from home the last half of the semester because of COVID-19, Landry checked in on her students at home. That’s when Lexi opened up.
Landry vowed to make Lexi’s dream come true.
If her child were in the same situation, Landry said, she hopes someone would care enough to do the same.
“This was an Owensboro village effort,” Landry said. “One of the things I love about Owensboro is it is truly a village.”
She involved Katie Mazariegos, a Spanish teacher at OMS. Mazariegos contacted Lexi’s dad and got permission for the quinceañera.
Then, Landry posted a request on Facebook. She asked if anyone had a prom dress and shoes.
Brooke Morris, a stylist at All About You salon, found a dress and offered to style Lexi’s hair and fix her makeup for free.
At 10:30 a.m. on Lexi’s birthday, Landry picked up the teen and started her day at Starbucks.
Then, it was time for the dress, hair and makeup, and photos at Smothers Park.
“The first time she saw herself in the dress, she burst into tears and wished her mom had been there,” Landry said.
The day included a birthday cake and meal at Papa Grande.
All day, Lexi was treated like a princess.
“I am so thankful to have people in my life who would do something like that for me,” she said. “It was a big deal because my mom is not here to do that for me. It made me feel so special.”
Landry didn’t want recognition for this act of kindness. It’s simply what teachers do, she said, and they do it every day.
Besides, Landry argues she also received a blessing, not just Lexi.
“It was really beautiful watching her have this experience,” Landry said. “I was the one who had the privilege. This is one of the bonuses of my job.”
Renee Beasley Jones, 270-228-2835, email@example.com