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Old-School Debutante Ball Comes to Newport - with Mission to Build Girls' Confidence

The traditional debutante ball returns to Northern Kentucky this weekend - with some updates.

Tracy Stokes is the person behind the idea where young women will dress up with their escorts in tow.

But unlike the debutante balls of the past, the end result is not marriage or even courtship. Instead, its aim to build confidence - and to have fun.

"We held a ball at Northern Kentucky University, and we had  students from West Chester, Newport High School, Lakota, Mason, and a couple of Boone County High Schools," said Stokes. "I started Young Pearls back in 2011 when I was in Dayton, Ohio, but then I moved to Northern Kentucky. Pearls is an acronym for Purposely Educating and Responsibly Leading Young Sisters."

This year the ball will be held on Saturday, May 19, at 4 p.m., at Newport High School. Any student can attend, but since there will also be a dinner, catered by Pompilio's, students should RSVP on the website,, by going to the event tab.

The group tries to target under-represented girls between the ages of 12 and 18, working with them to allow them to realize who they are, and how to develop their potential.

Stokes originally had ten girls who were preparing for the ball on Saturday, but that number has dwindled to five who continue to practice with Stokes, learning classic dances.

Some of the girls went shopping and bought dresses at David's Bridal, and they have been practicing their entrances and dancing in their dresses.

"I choreographed their entrance, and they have been practicing for three months," said Stokes. "We will present the girls, and then have dinner and dance. Part of this is to make the girls feel special. Nobody doesn't want to be special sometimes."

Stokes's goal is to write a book outlining a curriculum for the program she started.  

She would like to expand the program at NKU, and still work with the area high schools. She aims to become a nonprofit organization, so that she can apply for grants.

Stokes hopes to work with the university on possible funding opportunities and also to provide mentors for the girls. At Newport High School, she has worked with Ramona Malone, president of the Newport board of education, and Donna Watts, the family resource coordinator.

"This is my heart, my passion," said Stokes. "I will work at this till I am tired."

Story & photos by Patricia A. Scheyer, RCN contributor
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