Fior Mendez certainly wasn’t born with a silver spoon in her mouth but she is on her way to being able to afford as many she likes. Dominican republic-born Mendez recently achieved her lifelong ambition of waking down the runway as a model, no small achievement for a girl who has spent the last eight years in an orphanage.
Only two months ago, Mendez was still residing Orfanato Niños de Cristo orphanage in the town of La Romana where she’d been since she was 13. One of five children, Mendez her mother and her siblings were homeless and seldom knew where their next meal might come from. When she reached 13, her mother decided she could no longer provide for her family and deposited Mendez in the orphanage. She has had no contact with her family since that time.
Growing up in the orphanage, she was quiet and afraid, wondering if she would always have a home there or if she would be cast out homeless and hungry. Gradually she found her place and developed into a quiet leader. The modeling shows broadcast on Dominican Republic TV, spurred her dream of one day walking the catwalks as a model.
She grew to a height of 5’ 10” and put that height to wok playing volleyball before her big break came. On her 21st birthday, the orphanage said they could no longer support her and she would have to move on. Fortunately, the orphanage’s founder and Mendez’s good friend Sonia Hane, invited Mendez to come live with her in New York.
The idea was to help her learn English so she could forge a life for herself but it quickly led to a meeting with casting agent to Prince Riley, the founder of modeling agency Signature Talent Agency. He adored the girl who was a natural at posing and began to send her out on casting calls immediately. She landed every one she went to.
Nzinga Knight, an American Muslim designer with a Caribbean background was wrapping up her third casting call when Mendez entered the room. One look at the girl’s walk and her radiant smile and Knight was sold. Mendez would strut down the catwalk for the fifth annual Harlem’s Fashion Row show during New York Fashion Week at the Lincoln Center.
In the Dominican Republic orphaned girls often end up working as prostitutes or living in poverty the rest of their lives. Mendez was able to attend school at the orphanage, even taking computer classes made possible by The Orphaned Starfish Foundation, founded by Andy Stein, which built a computer lab at the orphanage. It was Stein’s girlfriend who introduced Mendez to Riley and set the wheels in motion.
Mendez was touched and choked up with tears on the day of her New York debut. She never imagined that her dreams could come true. She hopes to one day study communications and work as a newscaster. But dearer to her heart is the hope that she can serve as an inspiration to other orphaned children, showing them that dedication can help make their dreams a reality too.