- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 24, 2017

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (AP) - About a dozen casually dressed teen girls spent Sunday afternoon dancing across the Thurgood Marshall Leadership Academy’s gym floor, learning choreography that in two months they will perform in a ballroom in white gowns and pumps.

They are among the few high school juniors and seniors chosen as debutantes for the Ladies With Purpose Fort Wayne Debutante Cotillion, 6 p.m. March 25 in the International Ballroom at IPFW.

The biennial event is more than a plated dinner and dancing. Toni Irby, Ladies With Purpose Committee co-chair, said it exemplifies this quote by “Roots” author Alex Haley: “Find the good and praise it.”

“We found the good,” Irby said of selecting the 15 debutantes.

The cotillion is for girls who must meet a rigid standard of academic and social excellence. It provides a platform for young women to receive recognition and financial support for scholarships; learn and participate in civic and community service activities; develop leadership; receive encouragement for post-secondary education activities; and learn poise, grace and citizenship.

“These girls are set apart,” committee co-chair Dawn Smith said.

The teens began preparing for the spring event in November. In addition to learning and rehearsing dances each week, they discuss various issues in what Irby referred to as a sisterhood circle.

Sunday, the ring of chairs included four women in the medical field. In ending discussion, the adults heard each debutante’s aspirations, which included plans to become doctors and serve as president.

The girls were also asked what they got out of the day’s discussion. One said she liked hearing about overcoming adversity, and another said she likes having local women - not just celebrities - as role models.

Debutantes Hannah Benson, 15, and Maiyah Farrow, 17, said the sessions can be inspiring.

“We can see what we can be,” Farrow said.

“It gives me a sense of hope,” said Benson, who wants to be a reconstructive surgeon.

Ladies With Purpose, a nonprofit, redistributes the money the girls raise as scholarships based on their participation with the program. Smith and Irby said they would welcome corporate sponsors to help offset expenses so even more money can benefit the girls.

Tickets to the cotillion cost $40 for adults and $20 for children 10 and younger. They may be purchased from any debutante.

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Source: The (Fort Wayne) Journal-Gazette, https://bit.ly/2jK88nL

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Information from: The Journal Gazette, https://www.journalgazette.net

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