By Rene Ray De La Cruz Photo credit: David Pardo Daily Press, Victorville, Calif.
After the death of her baby daughter, one local mother decided to use the tragedy to bring joy into the lives of girls throughout the High Desert.
When Diley Greiser isn't saving lives as a firefighter/paramedic with Cal Fire/Riverside County Fire Department, she and a team of volunteers work to ensure that every girl in the Victor Valley looks like a princess on prom night.
"We started Rena's Dress Boutique as a way to honor my daughter, who died at birth, and my husband's sister, Nancy, who died as a teenager," Greiser, 44, said. "It's a way to bring joy and healing into the lives of these girls who don't have the ability to get into a dress, jewelry and shoes for prom, which is basically a rite of passage."
For three years, Greiser and her team have collected dresses from area high schools, organizations and individuals. They clean, repair and restore each dress.
"Girls are treated like princesses in a boutique setting, and through Diley's efforts, she has helped 200-plus girls," Diane Rodriguez, treasurer of the nonprofit, wrote in her nomination of Greiser as one of the Daily Press 2014 Most Inspiring Women.
"Diley is the heart and soul of Rena's Dresses, an inspiration to all who are part of Rena's Dresses and to all the young ladies she has helped, past and future."
After losing her baby daughter more than 20 years ago, Greiser said she would visit her gravesite every year, celebrating age milestones with gifts and poetry.
"The first year that she was gone was incredibly hard," Greiser said. "You come home from the hospital empty-handed, and people expect you to forget and go on with life, but my pain was deep."
Greiser said a major step toward her healing came when her husband, Jeff, explained that their daughter would not want to see her mother having a "pity party."
Even though her daughter would never wear a prom dress, Greiser said she would honor her daughter's memory, as well as Nancy's, by spreading love and joy to teenage girls in the form of that very special dress.
"Many of the high schools had small dress closets, but now we work with them as they collect the dresses and accessories," Greiser said. "Tammy Aguilera from Hesperia High, Diane Rodriguez from Oak Hills and Gina Adkins have been awesome volunteers."
Greiser said on March 22 and 23, the library at Sterling Inn will be transformed into an elegant boutique, where young ladies will be able to pick out a dress and have a personal stylist walk them through fashion and makeup tips.
"We'll have rooms for fitting and alteration, and a lounge for parents," Greiser said. "Many of these girls have never worn a dress or makeup. To see the look on these girls' faces as they walk on cloud nine is incredible."
Greiser said the Lions Club has recently made a limited amount of tuxedos available for boys and a local vending machine company started a scholarship program for Greiser's group.
After fleeing Cuba at age 12 with her family, Greiser said she was inspired to become a firefighter after seeing Chicago firefighters assisting a driver who had crashed his vehicle on the railroad tracks.
Since that time, Greiser has faced challenges as she learned English along with American culture and found a place on a fire department.
"It took a lot of work and time to earn a spot with the fire department, but looking back almost 10 years, it was worth it, " Greiser said. "My family says I'm all about persevering under fire at work, or to make sure the boutique is running smooth."
In 2012, Greiser's life was featured on an episode of "Lives on Fire," a TV series on the Oprah Winfrey Network.
After her first boutique, Greiser said she was surprised when she didn't cry while reading poetry at her daughter's gravesite.
"Sometimes, you have to bring healing in order to start healing yourself," Greiser said. "It's been a united team effort; it's not just about me. We're just excited that a dress can bring a smile."
For more information on Rena's Dresses, visit www.renasdresses.org or search for Rena's Dresses on Facebook. Rene Ray De La Cruz may be reached at 760-951-6227, [email protected] or on Twitter @renegadereports. ___ (c)2014 the Daily Press (Victorville, Calif.) Visit the Daily Press (Victorville, Calif.) at www.vvdailypress.com Distributed by MCT Information Services