Having A (debutante) Ball

March 19, 1995|By Andrea K. Walker | Andrea K. Walker,Contributing Writer

A nervous excitement filled the top floor of Shrum's Bridal as 15 teen-age girls, many of them more used to blue jeans and tennis shoes than formal gowns and high heels, tried on dresses for their debutante ball.

This evening's affair is being sponsored by the Planning Action Committee of Anne Arundel County. The nonprofit organization provides activities like the ball as part of its effort to prevent drug and alcohol abuse in the community.

"The teen-agers need something to get involved in so they don't get in trouble on the streets," said Carolyn Butler, committee member and debutante coordinator.

When the committee started planning the ball in August, 40 girls were in the program. They came from low-income families in all parts of the county and were chosen by 15 local action committees.

The girls, ranging in age from 10 to 17, attended weekly sessions and workshops on self-esteem, personal improvement and drug and alcohol abuse. To qualify for the ball, they had to maintain a 2.5 grade-point average and do 100 hours of community service.

Fifteen dropped out because of bad grades and poor attendance at the meetings. La'Sonia Nick, 17, is one of the 25 who stayed in the program.

"I didn't like it at first, but I like it more now," she said. Her new friends kept her coming back to the meetings. "There's a time for seriousness, but we can laugh and joke too."

While traditional debutantes raise money to earn the crown, the girls in tonight's ball will be judged on their essays, grades and community service. The organizers want to teach the girls that education and community service can also bring rewards in life.

The 15 senior debutantes, ages 13 to 17, will be escorted by members of the U.S. Naval Academy's Black Students Association. The 10 junior debutantes, ages 10 to 12, will perform a dance and song. For each girl, the ball is a long-awaited reward for the hard work they have done.

"It's something unusual for them because low-income girls don't usually get to participate in those kinds of things," said Sandra Chapman, technical assistant of the committee, who helped organize the ball.

The ball is also an occasion for the mothers to be proud of their daughters. Many of the mothers say their daughters have matured since joining the program. They have seen improvements in attitude and self-esteem. Some of the girls have even gained a new interest in school. Theresa Nick, 38, said her daughter, La'Sonia, has "completely changed."

"She's grown up more," Ms. Nick said. "She used to have a bossy attitude, but now seems ready to grow up and deal with other people maturely."

Monday the girls modeled flowing white gowns before the full-length mirror that covers one wall of the Glen Burnie bridal shop. Some practiced curtsying. Others bit their nails and contemplated the perfect dress.

Ms. Chapman expects about 300 people to attend this evening's event at Michael's Eighth Avenue ballroom in Glen Burnie. It starts at 4 p.m. and is open to the public. Tickets cost $20. Dinner will be served before the ball.

When the ball is over, the dresses will be returned, and a new group of girls will enter the program.

But this evening, this year's junior and senior debutantes can cherish their moment.

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