New Castle News

April 16, 2013

Senior girls shine at program’s end

Dan Irwin
New Castle News

NEW CASTLE — It takes a long time to make a diamond —  in this case, eight years.

And last night, the jewels shone.

The first graduating class of Diamond Girls gathered at Gallo’s Italian Villa to celebrate the completion of a mentor-based program they began during fifth-grade in the New Castle Area School District.

The initiative stresses responsibility, accountability and self-respect, and the girls who began it at ages 10 and 11 are graduating with grade-point averages between 3.0 and 3.8. All have post-graduate education plans as well.

“It has been a long eight years,” said co-director Michele Perelman. “Some girls thrived, some girls lost their way. The goal of the founders and mentors to change lives is the continuing motivation for the program.

“And the lives of these girls have changed. They are sparkling, strong and beautiful young women poised to take on the world.”

Supported by 10 mentors who have been with the program since its inception, Diamond Girls placed high expectations on its members, including a no-drug, no-alcohol and no-pregnancy commitment through graduation. That came with challenges to achieve good grades, perform volunteer services and to become involved in the community.

Meetings included volunteer opportunities; health education programs; classes in manners, etiquette and modeling; academic support; and fitness programs. The girls attended Girl Scout camp, volunteered at the Hoyt Center for the Arts Children’s Festivals, served lunch at First Presbyterian’s Glory Grill, took multiple nature trips to Moraine State Park and even visited New York City on an overnight excursion.

Three of last night’s graduates — Keonna Fuqua, Payge Elias and Antoynette Greer — each said that Diamond Girls had helped them overcome shyness and enabled to them to speak confidently with and before others.

“I became an outgoing young lady,” Keonna said. “When I was little, I was shy. I didn’t talk to many people, so I kind of evolved to where I can talk to people now.

“It was hard, because I didn’t want to, but I got used to it.”

Payge shared how volunteering with the group opened both her eyes and her heart.

“The thing that got to me most was feeding the homeless and seeing them come in and having nothing and being able to give them what they need,” she said. “And we went caroling at a nursing home, and got to make them smile.

“It opened my eyes more to a world like that, and it kind of hurts that you can’t help them all.”

Antoynette was thankful for the guidance of the group’s mentors.

“These mentors are like another mom to you because they teach you things that you don’t know, things that your mom doesn’t teach you,” she said. “It’s just nice to have another mother when you’re away from your own mother.

“So I have a home away from home.”

More than 90 friends, family members and sponsors attended last night’s dinner, where each girl received a Diamond Girl silver charm and necklace, with a diamond in the center and the inscription “Diamond Girl” on the back.

Maria McKee, chief financial and operating officer of the New Castle Community YMCA, spoke on “Three Key Life Lessons,” and each girl shared what Diamond Girls has meant to her. With the support of the Pittsburgh-based FISA Foundation, Packer Thomas, Treloar and Heisel, the Perelman Foundation and Joe Anne Preston, each girl will be awarded a scholarship based on a written application.