Niceties Club makes prom dreams come true for underprivileged girls
By EmmaLee Italia, Correspondent and Mary Stadnyk, Associate EditorAttending one’s high school prom might seem like a given rite of passage for many students – that is, unless you are unable to afford the customary attire.
Enter the Niceties Club in Notre Dame High School, Lawrenceville. For four years, club members have made it their mission to “inspire young women through kindness,” providing service to teenage girls in need. And that includes helping girls in distressed areas of the state find suitable formal wear.
The Niceties Club hosts prom boutiques at various high schools, sometimes three-to-five per year, allowing girls who might not otherwise be able to afford prom attire to peruse the donated inventory for the right fit and style.
“This year we were able to service Barnegat High School and Collier High School,” said Eileen Palazza, club founder and moderator. “We dedicate ourselves to providing girls in need with everything that they need to go to their prom. We are not allowed to fundraise, and consequently everything that we do is based on the donations that we receive in the form of gently-used gowns and cocktail dresses, as well as accessories.”
Barnegat High School is a four-year public high school; Collier High School, in the Wickatunk section of Marlboro, is a state-approved, private, non-profit school for students with disabilities whose needs cannot be met within the public school.
“We are constantly researching to see if there is any opportunity that we could take advantage of to bring our mission to more girls,” Palazza explained. At Barnegat they were able to help 45 girls, while at Collier they helped 22. “Both schools were very appreciative and look forward to us servicing them again next year.”
Anissa Figaro, senior, joined Niceties her junior year. “I always knew about the club before then, but didn’t think I had what it takes,” she said. Palazza approached her, however, and convinced her to join.
“Most girls understand the importance of the perfect dress for prom,” she said, “but when you are struggling to make ends meet, a kind gesture such as a 100-percent free dream dress and a positive attitude can mean everything,” she said.
As Figaro puts it, the Niceties members set up the inventory, transforming the space from a regular gym to a high-class boutique, and “give girls the gift of prom: dress, accessories, shoes – pretty much everything they need.”
Figaro was a personal shopper at Collier for a girl named Gil. “We basically tried on every dress in our inventory – I just wanted to make sure she wasn’t settling, but found a dress that made her look and feel amazing. She wasn’t much different from me; at the end of the day, we both just wanted to slay prom.”
Sophomore and club member Jania Blount enjoyed serving many of the students, helping them find prom dresses that they love.
“Helping others is important to me because there are people in our world that are not as fortunate as we are, and being able to go out into the community and help others is very important,” she said.
Taylor Okamura, a freshman and new Niceties member, loves helping others – but this club, she said is more than that. “Niceties gives girls life changing experiences,” she said. “I believe our motto sums up the club perfectly: women empowering women through kindness.”
While not able to attend the boutiques, Okamura enjoyed helping prepare for them the day before. “It’s not easy work, sorting dresses, making sure you have all the correct sizes,” she attested, but stressed that “helping others is not just an activity you can take part in – helping others is a part of life. You can learn so much from the experiences and the people you meet.”
In addition to the prom boutiques, Okamura noted, the club made Christmas ornaments for all the teachers in NDHS. “There are still projects in process at the moment, but I know we are excited to do more!” she said.
One of those projects, according to Figaro, was “a kindness wall, where we decorated a door with sticky notes that had positive messages on them, and a sign that read: spread the kindness, take a note, leave a note.”
Abigail Wilson, junior, joined Niceties last year, as the club immediately caught her eye during the freshman club rush.
“I went to a meeting and was inspired by all of the girls, as well as Mrs. Palazza’s passion to helping us reach our goals and help others,” she said. “Niceties is such an amazing group of girls who constantly devote their time to helping others and giving back to the world around them. I am amazed by everything this club does and what we stand for and I am so proud to be a part of it.”
Next year the club intends to expand its services for women to include those whose husbands are currently deployed overseas, as well as young pregnant women currently in need of basic services. Additionally, a Niceties alumna is currently at university in London, and Palazza hope to plan a week-long service project there.
“Another goal for next year is to hold an in house boutique at Notre Dame,” she continued. “Through collaboration with Laura Sarubbi, who runs our admissions office, we hope to advertise to five local high schools and pre-register guests so that we have a successful in house boutique by the end of March or early April 2019.”