LIMA — The annual Debs and Gents for Christ Cotillion will take place at 6 p.m. March 15 at Veterans Memorial Civic Center.
The dance is a culmination of a five-month program which focuses on high school seniors. The program begins in November and goes through the middle of March. It includes weekly meetings where students participate in various workshops that prepare them for life after high school.
“We try to give the participants a perspective on what to expect in the real world,” said Ann Wilson, who serves as the co-coordinator of etiquette and charm in the program. “We have workshops on how to adapt to college life. We have advisors that come in and help the kids fill out financial aid forms and learn how to manage their finances in college.”
The group also goes out and does community service. “We go to the Baton Rouge assisted living facility,” explained Wilson. “We also donate non-perishables and toiletries and non-perishables to the Samaritan House.”
The program is organized by the Shiloh Scholarship Ministry Committee which is a part of the Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church. “Our main purpose is to raise money to award scholarships,” said Wilson.
The program is open to any young person in the community that meets the qualifications. The two main qualifications are the participant has to be a high school senior, and they cannot have reached adulthood. “They have to be 19 years old or younger,” said Wilson, “and they can’t have reached adulthood by other means. By that, I mean they can’t have had a child, been married, or been incarcerated.”
This year, there were four girls that participated in the program. “We average about five each year,” said Wilson, “but we’ve had as many as 13. It just varies.”
The four girls will be able to choose their own escorts, who do not have to meet the programs qualifications.
The cotillion will be catered by Ann Ross Catering and there will be a professional photographer there. The girls will perform a waltz routine that will be choreographed by Tanya’s School of Dance. “They choreograph our routine every year,” said Wilson. “It’s always different each year.”
The participants will then be awarded a certificate, a Bible and a scholarship. The scholarship amounts vary. “Every year we put out a souvenir booklet,” said Wilson. “The girls sell advertisements in it and depending on how much advertising they turn in, that is how much scholarship money they get. Most girls usually get $1,000 back in scholarship money.”
This year, Shanelle Smith, a Lima native, will also be speaking at the dance. Smith is an experienced program developer and manager and is the director of Emerald Cities Cleveland, a clean energy collaborative in Cuyahoga County that aims to create energy efficient buildings, as well as, green jobs. There, she has worked with civic and community leaders on her focus interests of social equity, environmental sustainability and local economic development needs.
The program, which is in its 27th year, was started by Patricia Butler, who is now the chairperson of the Shiloh Scholarship Ministry Committee, and the Rev. Fayne G. Wise, who retired as the pastor at Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church two years ago. “The two of them got together and decided to put on this event,” said Wilson. “Sororities put on debutante balls, and we wanted to put on something of a similar nature but with a spiritual foundation.”
Wilson, who has been helping with the program since its beginning, hopes the program does not just offer a cultural benefit, but a spiritual one, as well. “Well, hopefully, in their homes they are getting a spiritual foundation and we want to add on to that,” she said. “But, if the only spiritual foundation they are getting on a weekly basis is this, then that is very important. It gives them a different perspective on life and helps them to be more spiritual.”
As a mom of three adult children herself, Wilson loves working with the program. “It’s a joy for me,” she said. “I feel very inspired to encourage others to get higher learning, to get a degree, to be successful in life. I love to work with young people. I enjoy it even with its frustrations sometimes.”
As this latest group of Debs and Gents for Christ Cotillion reaches the end of the program, Wilson hopes it has made a difference in their lives. “I hope that the experience they gained will afford each of the young men and women to enter into a new season with dignity, honor and Christian love,” she said. “That’s my main purpose.”
Debs and Gents for Christ Cotillion
Where: Veterans Memorial Civic Center, downtown Lima
When: 6 p.m. March 15
Tickets are $30 adults, $15 students.
For details or tickets, call Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church at 419-223-7606