Gaithersburg teen Sophia Aguilar poses with Monte Durham, host of "Say Yes to the Dress: Atlanta," at Discovery Communications in Silver Spring. Credit: VIA DISCOVERY COMMUNICATIONS

Shelves of heels, racks of glamorous gowns and a table topped with sparkling silver jewelry filled the first floor of Discovery Communications as consultants paced back and forth, all to provide the perfect prom look for more than 200 area teens who were invited to a “Say Yes to the Prom” event.

The seventh annual ‘Say Yes to the Prom’ tour sponsored by the company’s TLC channel made its final stop Thursday at Discovery’s downtown Silver Spring headquarters. That’s where 37 students from Watkins Mill High School in Gaithersburg joined about 170 other high-achieving and economically disadvantaged teens from high schools in the Washington, D.C., area for a day of pampering that included choosing a free prom outfit, plus all the trimmings.

“Honestly, I could not believe it,” Watkins Mill senior Sophia Aguilar said during the event. “I was just like, ‘Is there a catch? What do I do …? Is there money involved?’ I was shocked, I was really shocked. There can’t be something that’s as amazing as this just to go on for free.”

Adria Alpert-Romm, Discovery’s chief human resources and global diversity officer, has been in charge of the prom program since it started seven years ago at the company headquarters. About 1,000 teens participated in this year’s tour, which included stops in New York City, Miami, Tampa, Houston and Knoxville, she said.

“Every year we start planning these events, it’s a lot of work, it takes a team to make this happen,” said event host Monte Durham of the TLC show Say Yes to the Dress: Atlanta. “But I’ll tell you, when you get here and when you see these deserving students, guys and the girls, all of the sudden feeling empowered and feeling special and celebratory, because we’re here to celebrate, right? It means a lot to me to see that on their face. I mean it just blows me away, something I’ll never get tired of.”

In addition to providing prom outfits to the students, tour organizers hoped to instill confidence in the teens that they could succeed in the future. Before trying on clothes, groups of students from each high school gathered in an auditorium and watched a prerecorded video message from Oprah Winfrey, who encouraged the students to ‘Say yes to their futures,’ a common theme throughout their two-hour session at the event. 

Durham said one of his favorite parts of the tour is reaching out to the students after they’ve graduated and seeing how they’ve continued to work hard.

“I look forward to talking with them and hearing their aspirations and their goals and I’m telling you right now that the students we’ve seen this year, they are all going to make it,” Durham said.

Each group of students was given two hours at the event. The Watkins Mill students were the last ones to attend—event staff gathered together and cheered while the students walked in.

During the event prom consultants assisted girls as they chose a pair of shoes, a dress from a selection of almost 3,000 dresses donated by Macy’s and accessories. The teens also received hair and makeup consultations with students of the Paul Mitchell beauty school after picking out their outfits.

Boys customized their selection of a suit or tux at a table set up with choices from Men’s Warehouse. When they finished, they received a gift card to Men’s Warehouse so that they could duplicate the look for prom with a free rental.

“I was pretty excited because we get free suits,” Watkins Mill senior Yann Kouemi said. “I was going to spend $200 on a suit so I was really excited. I told my parents about it and they said go for it, so I’m happy to be here. When we walked in, there was a crowd of people clapping for us—I felt famous or something.”

As the session continued, consultants complimented students on their selections and students were given bags to hold their outfits and accessories. The consultants suggested the girls donate their dresses after prom night. They also encouraged students to ask them questions about their careers and learn more about what they do.

In addition, event staffers also encouraged students to apply for two opportunities through organizations that Discovery works with, including The Emma Bowen Foundation internship program, which places students in paid communications internships, and The Will & Jada Smith Family Foundation’s Careers in Entertainment, which helps high school and college students pursue a career in media.

Once the students finished trying on clothes, they posed in their selections for photos with Monte for their “Monte Mirror Moment,” a key element of his TV show, in front of a large elegant silver mirror. 

Aguilar, one of the many students shocked and excited to see the TLC star, found out about the event from a school counselor and didn’t believe it was real.

“I was like, ‘Are you sure? Really? Discovery Channel? It feels like a dream and I know I’m going to remember this for the rest of my life because of how amazing this is,” Aguilar said. “I love the fact that they are doing this for us. I’m so happy.”