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Sophisticated Ladies look to the future

Sophisticated Ladies held its annual pinning ceremony in the auditorium of Southside High School on Tuesday evening. Participants were (from left) Eureeka Dudley, Valerie Ruffin, Nicolshia Crawford, April Carr (Miss Black Greenville), Kendra Windley (president of the Washington branch of Key Women of America), Marcrissa Carswell, (returning Sophisticated Lady), Courtney King, Evelyne Del Billingslea (Key Women of America). (Submitted Photo)

When Chynna Bonner was thinking up names for the mentoring program she heads, instead of thinking present tense, she thought of potential. She saw rough edges polished and possibilities realized.

“I looked toward their future and saw what they would become,” said Bonner.

And what she saw was Sophisticated Ladies.

The Sophisticated Ladies is based at Southside High School, where Bonner is the school’s guidance counselor. The girls first gathered in 2010, to learn together, serve the community together and get to know their peers with betterment of their selves the common ground where they met.

“We’re having fun, but we’re not playing,” reads a quote on SL’s calendar of events for the school year.

But according to the girls, they are having fun while learning some valuable skills they’ll put to good use in college, in a career, even socializing now. Every two weeks, the girls meet for a half hour during school. That half hour is jam-packed with information from many community leaders: executive director of Washington-Beaufort County Chamber of Commerce, Catherine Glover’s program “Business Success” one week; another week, learning to “Walk Like a Lady” with Gail Watson, owner of Washington’s Dance Academy East. The Sophisticated Ladies members have learned to be financially savvy from a branch manager of Wells Fargo bank and to defend themselves against sexual harassment, thanks to the assistant director of REAL Crisis Center.

SL Vice President Danita Gibbs has been a part of the group since its inception.

“I saw it as a group that was about sisterhood,” said Gibbs. “Joining a group that was close-knit like this, I knew I’d gain new friends.”

Within that close circle of friendship and service, the girls are given the tools for healthy self-esteem, to set goals, explore leadership roles and take responsibility for their own actions.

“I knew I didn’t want to be one of those people that sat in the back (of class) and didn’t do anything in school,” said Courtney King, a freshman. “I wanted to get involved.”

King is treasurer and secretary for the club. Through it, and her interaction with fellow Sophisticated Ladies, King has learned to manage a self-professed bad temper.

“This club has taught me that I really need to think about something before I go off,” explained King.

For Valerie Ruffin, the club gives her a respite from the roles she plays on the volleyball and basketball courts, as well as the softball diamond.

“I like the group because it gives me a chance to show my lady(like) side. I don’t have to be a tomboy,” said Ruffin, who graduates this year and will be heading to the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

The Sophisticated Ladies is known for public appearances in which its members are decked out in evening wear — at the annual banquet of the Key Women of America’s Washington branch and, most recently, at the end-of-year pinning ceremony Tuesday night. Local dignitaries — County Commissioner Ed Booth, Beaufort County Board of Education member Terry Williams, Beaufort County Schools Superintendent Don Phipps — turned out for the event in which the girls were escorted by the male relative of their choice. Their mothers had the responsibility of pinning awards on their formal dresses.

Bonner said the program supplements what SL members learn in the classroom. For the girls, however, the club gives them the means to grasp the future with a confident grip. And make lasting memories while they’re at it.