Fior Mendez is like the homeless-to-Harvard icon of the fashion world, viewers of the “Today” show found out this morning. When the 22-year-old Dominican beauty walked the runway at Lincoln Center during fashion week Friday, no one would have guessed she had just fled her home town of La Romana in the Dominican Republic two months prior. Even more astonishing is the fact that Fior landed in New York City because at 21 years old, she had been kicked out of the orphanage where she had grown up because she was too old and had nowhere else to go.
“I’m overwhelmed emotionally, it’s a dream,” she said speaking of her nearly overnight success.“I couldn’t imagine that a person like me would be doing this in New York City.”
Fior said she was invited by a good friend of the founder of the orphanage where she was staying to come live with her in New York City to learn English. Within just a short period of time, that led to a meeting with a casting agent, and an opportunity to walk the runway during New York Fashion Week for designer Nzinga Knight. It wasn’t until after the casting that Knight found out about Fior’s humbled beginnings.
“Mendez moved often with her mother and four siblings, and they rarely knew where the next meal would come from.
“When Mendez was 13, her mother decided she could no longer take care of all her children. She left the girl at Orfanato Niños de Cristo orphanage in the town of La Romana. Since then, Mendez has had no contact with her family.
“But she says she found a family of a different kind in the orphanage, where she spent eight years of her life. There she became part of a community and established herself as a “quiet leader,” quickly becoming the right-hand woman of Sonia Hane, the orphanage’s founder.
“‘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.’”
Those are no longer her concerns today as the 5’10″ model focuses on establishing her life in New York with quite an amazing feat already under her belt. Excited to walk down the runway again sometime in the future, Fior also has other aspirations of going to school to study communications and eventually becoming a newscaster or spokesperson. She told the “Today” show of her ultimate goal:
“I want to help homeless children have a voice.”
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