Graduation time is approaching and the initiative, Royalty for A Night, is continuing to assist students of form five and six with finding that all important formal wear for their graduation ball through donations from the public. The initiative, in its seventh year, is run by NGO Yes She Can.
Programme co-ordinator Roberta Rose-Collins said it began in 2015 when a secondary schoolteacher made an appeal to her friends and family on social media for donations of suitable clothes for her students.
“She basically wanted her students to graduate and knew they couldn’t afford to get their gowns. It was specifically for her students, but it kind of blew up with people sharing it and then they ended up with so much they decided to give it out, you know, wholesale distribution of clothes.”
Rose-Collins said she was in a similar position when she was graduating from secondary school.
“I didn't have that opportunity. Well my parents couldn't give it to me, and a fairy godmother really stepped in and paid for my graduation clothes and that type of thing. So when I learned about this, it was an easy decision to continue to host this type of project, and that’s what caused us to continue it for all these years.”
The project kept building, with the largest distribution pre-pandemic being in 2019. During 2020 and 2021, there were no in-person graduations. In 2022, schools reopened and the initiative helped just over 100 students, Rose Collins said.
The pubic is being asked to drop off gently used and/or new formal wear, including men’s suits, accessories, and female and male shoes suitable for a formal event, at various points throughout Trinidad.
On distribution day, students must show their exam timetable as proof that they are a 2023 graduate. They can then select an outfit with matching accessories and shoes at the venue.
“Students are not required to return any of the garments or the accessories. Our only ask is that they ‘pay it forward’ when they are in a position to do so.”
Rose-Collins said the programme has expanded to include life skills sessions on distribution day, before and after the students have made their choices.
“In 2019 they would have gotten an opportunity to be exposed to things like dining etiquette, resume writing tips, things like that. What happens is when the students come there's a big crowd of them at one point and a lot of time that they sit and wait to actually be served. So instead of just having them there doing nothing we decided to introduce these life skills sessions so they can get more than an outfit, when they come they can leave with something to improve themselves.”
This year’s event is titled Strengthening Opportunities for Adolescent Resilience (SOAR) and sessions will include financial planning facilitated by Kimberly Farrah Singh; a confidence session by Rinisse Walker of HeartSpeakz Mentorship; a growth mindset session by Letina Mata of True Growth Caribbean; dance session with Leon Brewster of Red Studio; a mindset session from Jessie Mc Barrow; and an entrepreneurship session with Kyle Kutz, along with make-up and barbering demos.
Rose-Collins said the NGO reaches out to service providers such as hairdressers, make-up artists, nail techs, and this year to barbers, so students can get a more complete package for their graduation ball.
She said the response is always an amazing one, with teachers wanting to bring large groups of students, and both students and parents reaching out to find out when the clothing will be distributed.
“There was one year we served over 250 students. The students are excited when they find something that they do want, or they like, or something that fits them really well. I remember one year we had a pregnant student come in and everybody stopped and really helped her find the thing that was suitable. She twirled and twirled in that dress, I mean, it was so amazing.
“Parents come in and we have been told things like we’re preventing crime because, one parent, I actually remember him saying 'y’all don’t even understand how doing something like this helps prevent people from going down the route of crime because they will want to do whatever they have to do to get their children outfitted.' It was a shock for me to hear that but I understood what he was saying after.”
She said there are areas where there can still be improvement in the services offered, such as getting drycleaners to donate, especially for the men’s suits. She said there is also always a shortfall in items donated for young men.
“I'm still trying to crack the code, you know, on how to get the young men more supported. Because it's very easy for the women, the dresses come in, shoes come in, make-up artists, everybody donates. But the struggle continues to be for the young men, to get them a shirt, a tie, a jacket, a suit, you know.
“And I would often say to anyone, a suit is something that when you give it to this young man, he can use it for his first job interview, he can reuse it in a professional setting, in so many ways. So each year we asked the public to really think about how they can support these young men better in terms of helping us to provide them with these suits so that they can do more than just go to grad, it is an opportunity for them to have this beyond.”
Rose-Collins thanked the Heroes Foundation, who partnered with Yes She Can for last year’s distribution, and will be assisting with collection and distribution this year.
“Last year would not have been possible at all without them. I was out of the country when parents started to reach out and the Heroes Foundation stepped in and they were a major support in getting the distribution last year.”
E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org or contact Roberta Rose-Collins – 389-9046, or find Royalty for a Night, The Heroes Foundation, and Yes She Can on Facebook.
PLACE IN BOX
Drop off locations
Boba and Brew, Gopaul Lands SuperCentre, Marabella
Monday-Friday: 9 am-6 pm
Saturday: 9 am-7 pm
Sunday: 11 am-6 pm
Bubble Cupps, Price Plaza
Monday to Friday: 9 am-6 pm
Saturday: 9 am-7 pm
Sunday: 12 noon-7 pm
Wing It, 33 Ariapita Avenue, Woodbrook
Monday to Saturday 11 am-9 pm
Serena’s Collection, 6 Tunapuna Road, Tunapuna
Monday-Friday: 9 am-5 pm
Saturday: 7 am-3 pm
South: Gulf View Community Centre, La Romaine
June 10 : 9 am-5 pm
June 11: 10 am-3 pm
Port of Spain – Queen’s Royal College
June 17: 9 am-5 pm
June 18: 10 am-3 pm