International — 11 June 2009 — by Aaron Humes
Did you go to your high school prom? Do you remember what it was like?
In a country like Belize, few get such an opportunity. Sure, they can line the streets to watch the fortunate ones glide and strut into the Princess, Radisson, Biltmore, Chateau or Bellevue, having just stepped, bright-eyed, off helicopters or Cessnas, or out of stretch limousines.
But they would never get a chance to be the life of the party – that is, until today, when a non-profit organization based in South Florida took the opportunity to play fairy godmother to our Belizean Cinderellas in need of that magical gown and shoes to attend the ball.
Transforming America through Interaction (TATI), Inc., represented by its president, Tanya Williams Ragbeer, a Jamaican-American, and board members, Belizean-American Gilda Swasey and Jamaican-American Kevin Burke-Green, today visited Belize to spread their message of reward for the successes of our Belizean girls in the mold of the inspiration for the organization, the late Tatiana Renee McIntosh, 19.
The Jamaican-American model and journalism/advertising sophomore at the University of Florida, Gainesville, died tragically in a car accident in March of 2007. But before she was lost to the world, she balanced her studies with opportunities to mentor little girls and volunteer in other capacities within her community of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, U.S.A.
Now, her mother, Tanya, continues what Tatiana started, “giving back to the community,” particularly young women, who she believes deserve a chance to shine. TATI Inc. focuses primarily on academics and has handed out scholarships to students in the Florida area.
TATI Inc. collected some 130 formal dresses and 70 pairs of ladies’ shoes over the last few months, mainly through donations from Floridian citizens and businesses, and contacted 40 Belizean schools to participate in this year’s activity. Seven responded: Pallotti High School, Canaan Seventh Day Adventist and Gwen Lizarraga High School in Belize City; San Pedro High School on Ambergris Caye; Our Lady of Guadalupe R.C. High in Belmopan; Escuela Secundaria Mexico in Corozal; and Stann Creek Ecumenical in Dangriga.
But the dresses and shoes won’t go to just anybody. Gilda Swasey, who has lived in the United States for the last 31 years, told Amandala that the schools were advised to select 10 girls, each of high academic quality and proven financial need. They were sent to Kiddies Daycare on Coney Drive (opposite Body 2000 Gym) and allowed to select the dress and shoes of their choice, most in perfect condition, or nearly so.
With most of the quota of 70 dresses and shoes handed out, there remains a good selection available – if you fit the criteria. Just visit Kiddies Daycare and ask for proprietor Mrs. Adela Pilgrim or call 203-6303.
But why prom dresses? It’s about the magic of prom night, Ragbeer told us: “…my prom was one of the highlights of my life. As a young lady, it’s something you look forward to, a coming of age event, a rite of passage. You’re moving on from being a young woman to adulthood, transcending to bigger and better things. It’s definitely something that means a lot to young ladies, and unfortunately there are some who can’t afford their dresses, so we are here to give them their opportunity.”
The group would like to thank Belizeans Elena Gabb-Granderson (TATI board member) and President of the Belize South Florida Association Ray Gongora, as well as Hyde Shipping, Minister of the Public Service Hon. John Saldivar, Head of the Archives Department Charles Gibson, Mrs. Pilgrim, Rhonda Acosta and Dean Westby, Swasey’s niece and nephew, for assistance in setting up the display.
The group will also hand out school supplies to selected Belizean schools before leaving Belize on Tuesday.