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Tampa's Junior League preps students on the finer points

The Junior League of Tampa held a tea Thursday.

That may not sound like news for a group that is stereotyped as lacy doilies and delicate crumpets, but this tea took place in Ybor City not trendy South Tampa.

The special guests were not the darlings of society but sixth-grade girls from Academy Prep's Ybor campus.

Apparently, scones and cucumber sandwiches have more to do with education than you might realize.

As part of a 12-week social skills course, Junior League members meet with sixth-grade boys and girls from the school every Thursday.

Lessons range from dining manners to telephone etiquette to how to handle yourself in an interview or at a networking event.

Those are skills some may take for granted, but with Academy Prep's rigorous curriculum producing future Exeter, Culver Prep, Berkeley Prep and Tampa Prep students, it's important that urban kids develop a comfort level.

"To be successful, not only do they have to strive in academics, but they have to have great social skills," said Megan Berrigan, Junior League chairwoman for the program.

On Thursday, the girls quietly walked into Ybor City's Tea Room Cottage and politely sipped tea while engaging in conversation. They were encouraged to ask questions about etiquette, manners and what to do if you're served something you don't enjoy.

At the end of the tea, each girl received a gift — a small necklace with a letter pendant matching the first letter in her name.

Meanwhile, the boys were back at school getting dress-for-success lessons from Chris Blowers of Greiner's Clothing. They learned the art of tying a tie, and were allowed to keep the ties.

Don't underestimate the simplicity of such experiences. They've gone a long way toward building esteem and self-assuredness during the program's six-year run.

"We've really seen a tremendous growth in the kids with this program," Academy Prep's Chris Humboldt said. "We've taken our eighth-graders into social settings, and they're very confident greeting people and asking intelligent questions."

Confidence building is just one of the League's specialties. Now in its 84th year, the organization has more than 1,600 women fueling community projects.

The League's Kids Connect events have helped match more than 100 children with families since 1994.

Through other outreach efforts, the League has promoted literacy, given meals to underserved kids, helped foster children who aged out of the system and provided assistance to organizations that help women and families.

All of its net proceeds go toward projects, and over the past decade, it's donated more than $3 million to programs.

League volunteers also lend a hand to nonprofits.

Yet, people still think of white gloves instead of work gloves when they think of the League.

"We still have to keep explaining that we're more than ladies who lunch," president Jen Carl­stedt said.

As one of the newest members of the league's community advisory board, I'm jokingly suggesting they should get Larry the Cable Guy to be a spokesman.

After all, they just quietly Git-R-Done when it comes to making our community better. Clearly, this isn't your mom's Junior League.

That's all I'm saying.

Tampa's Junior League preps students on the finer points 10/15/09 [Last modified: Thursday, October 15, 2009 10:48pm]
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