Twirling in their newly chosen gowns, girls from six Boston Boys & Girls Clubs giggled as a photographer snapped their pictures like paparazzi.
The dresses, all new and hand selected, were donated by the Believe in Yourself Project, a charity run by Sam Sisakhti, founder of the Boston-based fashion retail website UsTrendy.
One hundred girls from Mattapan, Dorchester, Charlestown, South Boston, Chelsea, and Roxbury gathered at the Boys & Girls Club in Roxbury Wednesday night to try on sparkling gowns made of silk, lace, and sequins. But the real highlight of the evening was something the girls, ages 13 to 18, will never grow out of: messages of advice and wisdom from a panel of career-driven Boston women.
“I really want the girls to feel empowered,” said Sisakhti, who in the past year has been running events like this one in partnership with Boys & Girls Clubs all over the country. While last year’s Boston event was solely a dress giveaway, this year the focus was more on the dress recipients’ futures.
“I want to humanize these professions that kids might find unattainable,” he said.
That’s why he brought in five panelists, including Dr. Julie Silver, associate chair for Strategic Initiatives at Harvard Medical School; Shirley Bien-Aime, a former member of the Boys & Girls Club in Roxbury; Stephanie Saunders, an artist and Newbury Street boutique owner; and Petra Conti, the Boston Ballet’s principal dancer until 2017.
“I’m happy to be here because I struggled in life with believing in myself. My self-esteem was the lowest possible for a long time,” Conti said.
“I think they’re actually very confident,” she added, looking up at the girls parading around. “We can learn from each other.”
Keianna Richardson, a senior at Boston Latin Academy, was especially interested in what Conti had to say.
“I want to be a professional choreographer,” said Richardson, who plans to attend Northeastern University in the fall. She hopes to wear her dress to her upcoming birthday party, or perhaps to high school graduation.
For Dellena Baraket, a freshman at Weston High School whose dreams of becoming a neurosurgeon have led her to participate in Massachusetts General Hospital’s Youth Scholars program, speaking with Silver was as exciting as the new dress. “I don’t wear dresses a lot,” she said. “It’s different, it’s nice.”
“Teenage years for girls can be tough,” said Josh Kraft, chief executive of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Boston. “Having this opportunity [for] someone from the outside to show interest, to show that they care, to have great mentors, really is something that these kids won’t forget.”