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 DHS News April 2013   

Project Prom for Gentlemen

Why are there three plates on a formal dinner table?

That was the thing that flummoxed several teenage boys at a recent session of Project Prom for Gentlemen, held in the Human Services Building, Downtown.

There’s the service plate on the bottom, the dinner plate on top of that, and the salad plate to top off the stack.  

How the plates function was news to program participants Chance and John, although they and other attendees said some of the points of etiquette covered at Project Prom for Gentlemen were not revelations.

Still, it was clear that the attendees, whatever their level of social expertise, listened during the evening. They gave rapt attention to Art Terry of Wilkinsburg, an etiquette consultant and motivational speaker who spent about an hour discussing the finer points of prom night from the gents’ point of view.  He filled in for Nikki Williams, an etiquette consultant who usually does the presentation.

Art told them one of their key roles as prom dates is support.

“This is your night to show your date off in all of her beauty,” he said.  The boys’ role is “absolutely complementary.”

“Who’s going to be smiling the hardest that night?” he asked.

“Her mama.”

Although everyone laughed, many nodded, too.

Art pointed out that keeping a high standard pays off for the teens: The light ultimately shines on them.

 “You get the opportunity to exhibit all the promise people have invested in you,” Art told the boys. “You get the opportunity to return that.”

And if their prom date’s parents see a well-behaved, respectful young man picking up their daughter, they might just welcome him back, Art said.

Project Prom for Gentleman is in its second year, organized by the DHS Office of Community Relations’ Event and Donations team for boys who receive DHS services.

With an etiquette presentation, catered dinner, discussion, skit and even lessons in tying ties, the program is an offshoot of Project Prom.  At the end of the evening, Project Prom for Gentlemen participants are given gift bags with vouchers for a free tux rental, and a bonus:  Four tickets to a Pirates game.

Four sessions of Project Prom for Gentlemen are held in April. About 90 boys have participated each year, with about 30 more who cannot attend sessions receiving vouchers for tuxes.

Ondréa Burton, Event and Donations Manager, said Project Prom for Gentlemen began because she and others wanted to use the opportunity of the prom to do more for boys than just give them free formalwear. She is assisted by Brendan Hanschen; Event and Donation Team interns Darrel Pollard and Asia Creighton; and volunteers, some from DHS.

“These are skills and knowledge they can use for a lifetime,” Ondréa said.

Lynne Bottoms, a family interviewer for the Office of Data Analysis, Research and Evaluation, volunteers for Project Prom for Gentlemen and is enthusiastic about it.

“You see some (boys) who are really listening,” Lynne said. “Without this, they may not have gotten this information.”

Ondréa said she has been amazed at how the boys have taken the program seriously.  She wasn’t sure what to expect, she said. But they respond, beginning with heeding attendance rules outlined on the formal invitation mailed to them: Wear a shirt with a collar and pants with a belt.

Project Prom for Gentlemen’s $6,500 cost is underwritten by the UPMC Center for Inclusion Dignity and Respect Campaign.

After dinner, Matt Archer of the campaign moderated a skit focusing on hygiene and appearance.

He gently critiqued the boys’ manners, adding a bit of humor to the discussion.

“I noticed you actually picked up your salad plate and ate from it,” he said to one of the boys, to laughter. “You definitely don’t want to do that.”

The session ended with the boys practicing how to do several kinds of necktie knots, from Windsors to bow ties. They reviewed instructions illustrated on large placards and they tried each process.

“I’ve seen my dad do it,” said one boy. “He’s all old-school.”

Sometimes, said the Project Prom organizers, a little old school is what you need.

For more information visit the Project Prom for Gentlemen webpage

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