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Belles of the ball

PMHS FBLA holds Beauty and the Beast fundraiser for trip to nationals

by Mark Foynes
Contributing writer - The Baysider

LUCY GINGRAS (left) was among the many young girls who had a chance to spend some quality time with Belle during a Beauty and the Beast-themed event last week to raise funds for some members to participate in a national FBLA competition later in the month in California. Mark Foynes. (click for larger version)
June 14, 2017
ALTON — For one evening, members of the PMHS Future Business Leaders of America club eschewed their usual business suits in favor of formal ball gowns, having transformed the school cafeteria into a reasonable facsimile of the set of Beauty and the Beast.

The June 9 event was a fundraiser for the group, now in its second year. Faculty and members of the public bought tickets to the soiree, which included a pizza supper, followed by a screening of the movie, Belle.

The princess herself, portrayed by Abigail Thomas, made an appearance prior the film, which was shown in the auditorium. Prior to her grand entrance, she was preceded by a phalanx of FBLA members in formal evening wear. The young women mixed and mingled among an audience comprised primarily of elementary-school-aged girls and their parents and grandparents.

As attendees finished their pizza, Belle made her dramatic appearance, clad in an elegant yellow gown and matching elbow-length gloves. After being formally introduced, adoring fans approached the princess one by one.

Belle - a.k.a. Abigail Thomas - is one of three Prospect FBLA members who scored well enough at the recent state-level competition to qualify for the late-June national conference in California.

According to the national FBLA web site, thousands of future business leaders from across the U.S. will converge on Anaheim for the National Leadership Conference "to test their knowledge and skills through competitive events, share successes, and learn new ideas about shaping their careers through workshops and exhibits." The four-day conference is billed as a "high-energy, intensive ... leadership experience for state and local chapter officers, members, and advisers."

The site also notes, "FBLA is the largest career student organization in the world. Each year, FBLA helps over 230,000 members prepare for careers in business." Its mission is to 'bring business and education together in a positive working relationship through innovative leadership and career development programs.'"

Its programs focus on cultivating leadership skills, hosting academic competitions, and celebrating community service.

Faculty advisor Jennifer Cove was able to spare a few minutes last week to talk during the event. The business and computer technology teacher said the PMHS FBLA chapter, which she helped found with student support, is only in its second season. She said that the national organization provides young people with a unique opportunity to "connect with businesses and experience the realities of the working world."

Cove said the strong performance by the Prospect club at the state event "is really a testament to the dedication and professionalism of these students."

While there is a competitive aspect to the state event - and the eventual national conference, Cove said they "offer so much more."

"Students learn how to network and get other skills that will be essential to their pursuing a profession," Cove observed. Multiple workshops also provide opportunities to learn the real-world applications of what they learn in class, and how "certain soft skills translate in a business environment."

"It's about learning how you become a leader," Cove summarized.

She stressed the real-world applicability of the FBLA experience, saying, "Locally and at the competitions, students learn how to participate and behave in a business meeting, which is something that you really don't learn in the classroom," Cove added. "The whole experience has a real feel."

All 13 members are young women. Cove said that she and student members have attempted to recruit male members, but that there has been little interest among the male student body.

"We'd love to have some young men participate," Cove said. However, she added that the upside of having an all-girls club is helping to cultivate young females to assume positions of leadership in fields where they have been sometimes historically underrepresented. In this regard, FBLA at Prospect is mirroring a national movement to empower young women to assume leadership roles in the workplace.

Cove said the Beauty and the Beast theme was decided upon by a vote of the membership. She added that it provided a nice tie-in with the site of Disneyland, which the PMHS representatives will have a chance to visit when they attend the Anaheim nationals.

Cove also observed that FBLA is beginning to have a pipeline effect through near-peer mentorship. As part of the club's commitment to community service, members serve as role models to younger girls, providing words of encouragement and tangible examples of how hard work and preparedness can reap rewards.

"All you hear about young people today is the negatives, so this gives us a chance to showcase some of the best that the young generation has to offer," Cove said.

She added that the club has a "give back mentality" and is devoted to community service. Noting that many businesses are devoted to community causes, she says that volunteerism is a way to pay things forward.

Prospect's FBLA has forged an alliance with the Concord-based Connect Project, which endeavors to prevent teen suicide. The partnership has allowed PMHS students to leverage state, regional and national resources in the areas of prevention, intervention, and "postvention" for youth in deep crisis.

"These girls are driven, they're self-motivated - but just as importantly, they're caring," Cove added.

As her gown-clad students mixed and mingled among girls mostly in the K-3 range, Cove smilingly concluded, "They are going places - these are some special students"

FBLA president Tiffany White of Barnstead is a junior and a founding member of the club. She is also VP of the National Honors Society, and plays on the basketball, volleyball and unified volleyball teams.

While she still has a year of high school to complete, she is already working toward earning a master's degree through an innovative program. It allows motivated students to take online classes that will give them, in White's words, "a running start" when they get to the post-secondary phase of their education. She said her program, whose credits are transferable, is through Maine's Thomas College and is similar to programs at SNHU. When she enters college, she will do so as a sophomore.

White intends to pursue a career in forensic accounting - a specialty field where experts can follow money trails to pursue the actual use of funds. These specialists are often called in as part of investigations to document cases of fraud or money laundering.

During a brief discussion she was composed, on point and articulate - attributes that helped her garner a first place finish in the job interview portion of the state competition. FBLA awards distinctions on both individual achievements and group efforts. The PMHS team finished third overall out of a field of 75 at the state competition, held at SNHU earlier this spring.

White and Thomas (a.k.a. Belle) also scored another first place distinction for their joint presentation about the club's dedication to prevent teen suicide. (Also receiving honors was Barnstead's BettyJane Weir, who landed a third place nod in a competition devoted to publishing and design.)

White is somewhat philosophical about the individual and small-group accolades.

"We all support each other. We are in this together," White observed. "It's great when someone gets individual recognition, but we have a real team mentality," she said.

This spirit of cooperation has allowed the club to raise about $10k to fund travel, registration and lodging expenses for the three PMHS students who will be traveling to Anaheim at the end of the month for nationals. In addition to White, Thomas and Weir will be making the trip.

Friday's fundraiser was just the latest effort to raise funds. White expressed gratitude toward the PMHS school board, which pledged $3k in support. She added that individual members of the Barnstead school board combined as individuals to contribute $1,300 in personal support. Club members also made presentations to the Alton Rotary, generating an additional $600; White said Jeremy Dube of Maxfield Real Estate is a key supporter as well.

Also stepping up was the FIRST Robotics team #319 Big Bad Bob, which kicked in $1,000. White explained that FBLA and FRC#319 formed an alliance whereby they developed a business plan for the team to help ensure the STEM team's long-term sustainability.

Additional fundraising efforts included a partnership with Chipotle and a PMHS teacher dress down day, where faculty paid a small sum to circumvent the school dress code.

"It's awesome to see how the community has come together to support this effort," White said. In the process, she added that she has learned the importance of networking and giving back to support a common cause.

"I think our outreach efforts have strengthened the bond between the school and the community," White observed.

In addition to learning higher-level skills like fundraising, White said the FBLA experience also helps students like her position themselves for success. On days when the club meets, members dress in formal business suits. Meetings are conducted using Robert's Rules, and minutes are formally reviewed and approved.

"It is great exposure to what we can expect when we enter the workforce," White concluded.

Thomas, who is vice-president of the FBLA chapter, played the role of Belle. She was modest in describing her selection as the event's star performer.

"The dress fit perfect, so they asked me to be Belle," Thomas explained.

Casting her gaze about the group of elementary-aged girls attending - many of whom were also dressed in youth-sized gowns for the occasion - Thomas explained that the evening was "all about the girls discovering their own inner princess."

Although draped in a yellow gown with matching yellow gloves, she said she is more comfortable in a business suit, as is required on days when FBLA meets.

"They're both empowering, just in different ways," she chuckled.

Thomas placed fourth in the job interview competition and is also heading to Anaheim. Along with White, she helped earn PMHS a first-place finish in the club's community service presentation at the state conference.

"It was the best experience of my life - so far," Thomas beamed.

Regarding her business attire, she said she takes pride in wearing a suit.

"It's a visual way to be recognized as someone with a path in life," she said, adding, "It represents who I am as a person, and who I want to be."

Thomas, an Alton junior, intends to pursue a career in project management and expects to select a specific industry to focus on by working with Cove in the coming year. With an interest in psychology, she thinks human resources may be an appropriate field, given her interest in "bringing people together to get a job done."

Thomas is also student council president, class treasurer, a member of NHS, and is active in the World Culture Club.

Weir, along with White and Thomas, is also a founding member of the PMHS club. She distinguished herself at the state conference in graphic design. Her post-secondary plans include studying dental hygiene at NHTI and eventually getting a job in this field.

Weir is proud of what the two-year club has accomplished so far and hopes future students will carry the standard forward.

"We were the pioneers, but we hope to create something lasting that students can build on in years to come," Weir said.

For Weir personally, having recently moved to the district from Chichester, she said FBLA also "helped me integrate into the community and achieve a sense of belonging." She added that having set goals to focus on through FBLA enhanced her nascent sense of community.

"We all are dedicated and the dedication of the others is inspiring," she said. "It makes you feel like you're part of something larger and that together we're stronger than if we did it alone."

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