By Jennifer L. Warren
POUGHKEEPSIE – It was a site to behold, and everyone present thoroughly inhaled every precious moment of the empowering, life-transforming moments before their eyes.
About 20 youth, ranging in age from 4-10 years old, boys clad in sharp, formal black tuxedo suits with the classy touch of white carnation corsages; while girls sported elegant, white dresses, shiny jewelry and makeup adorned faces proudly made their way onto the red carpet and into the main dining room, as they were greeted by excited family, friends and guests. All the while inspiring, continuous musical lyrics, “Ain’t no stopping us now” streamed through the airwaves as the girl or girls, holding onto her male escort’s outstretched arm, names were each announced.
The first-ever scene of its kind unraveling at the Grand Hotel in the City of Poughkeepsie Saturday afternoon and into the early evening was the culmination of several months of hard work, dedication and plenty of practice aimed at developing such integral qualities as; confidence, social skills, communication, and etiquette, as these youth honed precious leadership skills. The brain child of both Deborah Long and her non-profit: “Positive About Possibilities” as well as Jasmaine Clay, Founder of the non-profit: “Saving Our Tomorrow,” the Inaugural Emerging Leaders Elementary Cotillion, carrying the theme, “Cultivating Confidence and Etiquette in Leaders,” was created to not only empower the next generation of leaders with critical skill sets to excel personally and professionally, but also to forge friendships, memories and a sense of community to last a lifetime. While most all existing cotillions are available to junior high and high school aged youth, this authentic one was laser-focused upon offering these priceless real world skills to a younger population.
“Our youth need guidance and our leadership, and this Cotillion is sowing seeds with the belief in our children’s unlimited potential,” said Clay as she welcomed in guests, kicking off the ceremony, reminding guests how important it is to be a village for our children, making them all feel loved. “We believe in our children and their futures, and we will continue to work with them, so they can make a lasting impression on the world.”
That already potent, groomed impact was visible throughout the four hours Saturday. After listening to motivational words about the attributes of a leader from a City of Poughkeepsie third grade teacher as well as engaging in a hands-on leadership gesture of selflessness (giving away a provided dollar bill to a stranger, expecting nothing in return) Cotillion participants proudly repeated her chant, “I am a leader, and I will never give up.” Soon after they approached the “center stage” area, holding their heads high, delineating exactly why they considered themselves an emerging leader. Among the replies were being: responsible, respectful, helping others, wanting to become a teacher, aspiring to being a nurse and helping their family.
Following the public speaking skills segment, it was show time on the dance floor, as children deftly displayed their newly developed abilities in both the slow Waltz and polar-opposite energetic Cha Cha genres. Standing up straight, eyes on their onlookers, the dancing, which they arduously practiced twice a week for several months, not only revealed their physical talents, but blossoming self-esteem and poise, qualities that are sure to catapult them into the impressive leadership roles they are now eager to embrace at a young age.
“At first when my mom told me about the Cotillion, I thought it was a little silly, but thought I would give it a try and was really surprised how great it was,” said Karter Clay, a City of Poughkeepsie sixth grader. “I learned how to really express my feelings and communicate and have become less shy; I also learned some new dances, such as ballroom ones, and they taught us dining room etiquette, such as keeping our elbows off of the table and being respectful to adults at the dinner table, and I met a lot of new friends.”
Meanwhile, another participant, Amaliah Harris, a Poughkeepsie fifth grader, was raving about the opportunity Saturday to reveal the big, formal “poofy” white dress she was wearing and was able to navigate in around the Grand Hotel.
“The biggest thing I’ll remember is this dress,” said the smiling, seated Harris, whose garment occupied most of the sofa in the preparation room. “It really takes special skill to be able to walk around in it;” She added, “I also really liked learning the Cha Cha dance; it was so much fun to do.”
Another dance fan was six-and-a-half year old, Jaena Beers, of Poughkeepsie, who preferred the waltz most of all, citing the duo appeal.
“I got to dance with my partner, and I had never done that before,” said Beers about her favorite new dance.
Beers’ mom, Rianna Fiorito, was the dance instructor. Glowing with pride as the participants took to the dance floor, unleashing their rhythmic talents, Fiorito too was transformed by her Cotillion endeavors.
“I really enjoyed the kids’ excitement to come here to practice and seeing they were practicing at home just because it was so much fun, was incredible,” said Fiorito. “It just makes them feel really good for the feeling of accomplishment it gives them.
So too the same could be said for the Cotillion in general. That feeling extends to the adults involved in this unforgettable experience.
“The will to help others is the most rewarding part of being here and involved with these children’s lives,” said the event’s guest speaker, Jeremy “Skip” Lee, who leads the Skip Lee Foundation. “Together everyone achieves more.”