Image Credit – Bennett Raglin / Getty Images
Fior Mendez’s childhood dreams have finally come true. Until recently, an orphanage in the Dominican Republic was her home. Fior would not let her circumstances deprive her of dreams to someday become a runway fashion model.
On Friday September 14, 2012 her dreams became reality at the Lincoln Center for New York Fashion Week. With the help of a translator Fior Mendez fought back tears as she related the amazing transformation of her life in a matter of a couple of weeks.
Fior, now 22 years old, told reporters that she was overwhelmed with the reality, “I’m overwhelmed emotionally, it’s a dream. I couldn’t imagine that a person like me would be doing this in New York City.” She continues to aspire for fame as she said that Chanel is within her sights.
When Fior was 21 she had legally outgrown the orphanage, however luck was on her side. A friend of the orphanage's founder, Sonia Hane, invited the talented and ambitious Fior to move to New York City. Her move led her to the path of a casting agent who arranged a meeting with Nzinga Knight, an American designer with a Caribbean background.
Knight was not aware of Mendez’s impoverished life; however, she hired her to wear her designs at the fifth annual Harlem’s Fashion Row show. Knight was impressed with Fior, "Just as my third casting session was about to be over, Fior Mendez walked in the room and did her walk and had this wonderful expression on her face, plus natural beauty, I was sold."
Knight subsequently learned about Mendez's life of homelessness and despair. Fior's mother and her four siblings lived a nomadic life and often never had much to eat. At the age of 13, her mother deposited her at the Orfanato Niños de Cristo orphanage and had not contacted her since. She had also lost contact with her siblings.
Image Credit – Orphaned Starfish Foundation
Fior embraced her new family at the orphanage. She blended into the community while her leadership skills propelled her to be confidant of the orphanage’s founder, Sonia Hane. “I was very scared before,” Mendez said. “I had no one place to live, so every night I went to sleep scared and didn’t know if I would get a meal.”
Andy Stein, founder of The Orphaned Starfish Foundation, stated that unlike many female orphans in Latin America who generally turn to prostitution, Fior attended school at the orphanage and received computer training. He became familiar with her when his nonprofit, The Orphaned Starfish Foundation, built a computer center for Orfanato Niños de Cristo. “She is an incredibly kind soul,” Stein told reporters, he continued, “What you’ll always see on her face is a massive smile.”
Her transition to New York City was insulated by the support of her employer and others including Stein and his foundation. Her command of English is becoming better, and she has now signed with Prince Riley's, boutique modeling firm, Signature Talent Agency. He proudly says, “Every casting I’ve sent her on she’s booked. The fashion industry is definitely embracing her.”
Fior plans to continue modeling and hopes to positively influence children from similar circumstances in the Dominican Republic. After her modeling career she intends to pursue studies in communications and become a career television personality and an advocate for homeless children. She says, “I want to help homeless children have a voice.”
For now, Mendez is soaking in the scene of Fashion Week, keeping up with her English classes and learning how to navigate New York City. Her thoughts, however, are never far from the orphanage she called home for many years, and the children who made up her surrogate family.
“I want to be a light for those kids,” she said. “I want to show them that if you are dedicated, you can do something, and that even if you’re sad, you always have hope.”