The Gathering of Women honors the next generation

BY JOYCE NANETTE JOHNSON, Staff Writer

ST. PETERSBURG –  The Gathering of Women’s 2016 Men and Women of Distinction Awards will be held this Sun., April 17 at the St. Petersburg Country Club. This yearly ceremony will honor 18 men and women who give of themselves to serve their community.

The Young Man and Woman of Distinction Awards are a source of pride for the organization because it gives them a chance to recognize the next generation of community leaders.

Jessica Papa

Jessica Papa

This year, Jessica Papa will receive the Young Woman of Distinction Award for leading a life of volunteerism, which she started at the ripe old age of 10.  She is now on the board of the Belle of the Ball Project, a non-profit organization that collects and distributes gowns to girls who reside in low-income households or whose family is in temporary financial straits.

Belle of the Ball was founded by her mother Susan Schwartz, and now donates approximately 200 of their 4,000 accumulated gowns each year to the Gathering of Women, Inc. for their gown distribution efforts in the south St. Pete area.

“Every girl deserves to wear that special dress on the night of her high school prom,” said Gathering of Women chairperson Samantha Richardson.

Papa’s mother grew up in a home with a tight budget and she never wanted to ask her parents for anything extravagant, including a dress for prom. She remembers when her mom discovered her and her sister’s old prom and homecoming dresses discarded in the closet after wearing them only once. She decided to donate them forward, and out of that the Belle of The Ball Project was created.

Belle of the Ball recently moved to a larger location, and it was Papa’s goal to give the girls the experience that they were shopping in a major department store and not a thrift store.

“I’ve vamped up the aesthetics,” she said. “There are now large mirrors and vibrant colors throughout.”

Papa also reinvigorated the jewelry selections by finding new vendors, and they also offer shoes, purses and shawls.  The cost is from free to a nominal $5.

“We encourage them to pay it forward by giving it to someone else or back to us, but all of it is theirs to keep.”

Papa said the whole experience brings the girls complete joy and boosts their self-esteem.

“We see the pride in them,” Papa said.  We also see some of the fathers tear up at seeing their little girl dressed up for the first time.”

Papa graduated from Clearwater Central Catholic High School and also credits them for her introduction into the benefit of volunteering. She has been a volunteer at Kimberly Home, St. Vincent DePaul and the Light of Christ Catholic Church.

She’s even gotten her husband David in on the fun. He is now the resident handyman for the project where he helped with the move to the new location and built out all of the portable dressing rooms.

“Being able to help someone, you should,” Papa said is her mother’s words of advice.  “Always give back and have a kind heart.”

South St. Pete’s homecoming dress giveaway will take place from April 23 to May 7 at Skyway Mall, 4301 34th St. S, from 1-4 p.m.

Terence J. Ware

Terence J. Ware

Young Man of Distinction

Being a standout in athletics, Terence J. Ware is no stranger to awards, and this Sunday the ladies of the Gathering of Women organization will bestow upon him the Young Man of Distinction award.

Not yet out of high school, he grew up in an extended family that included his mother, father, grandparents and great-grandparents. It was a loving but structured environment that nurtured and developed him, leaving a lasting imprint on his young life.

“I have a hard working family and they always stuck together,” Ware said.  “My dad, Terence L. Ware, always worked 24-7. They never gave up and always kept striving for more.”

His great-grandfather, the late Rev. Bragg Turner of Faith Memorial Missionary Baptist Church, was very instrumental in his life.  Ware bowed his head while sadness clouded his eyes as he described the man who meant so much to him.

“He was a strong man,” said Ware.  “He showed me that anything I can put my mind to, I can do it.”

Ware will graduate this year from Lakewood High School.  While there he won the 2015 Track & Field MVP, played junior varsity and varsity football and was a member of Student Government.  He has been offered scholarships in track and field from Barton Community College in Great Bend, Kan., and also a four-year scholarship from Aurora University in Illinois. His goal is to go into a program for athletic training or sports medicine.

In keeping with his family’s legacy of love and guidance, he feels it is his duty to mentor his younger brother. “I want to be big—the biggest role model I can be to my little brother Jalen.”

“It’s been a journey,” said his mom Jamisha Hudson.  “I told him I would rather yoke him and beat the brakes off him rather than have him in jail with a DC# behind his name,” she stated emphatically.  She also lectured him that homework came before athletic practice.  “Education is always plan B; it can always get you somewhere.”

Ware chuckled when he described his strong-willed grandmother, Joi Turner.  “She’s mean,” he playfully said.  “Basically telling me to stay out the streets and to watch who I’m around.”

“He’s not in jail, graduating from high school, not gotten anyone pregnant and I can’t be any prouder,” said his grandmother. “I didn’t want him to be a grown boy; I want him to be a grown man.”

Ware’s message to today’s youth is one of encouragement. “Be a leader not a follower,” he said.  “Be obedient to your parents and the Lord.”

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