Members of a new Youngstown-area community group say their tea parties serve as a way to groom young girls to be professional businesswomen.

It was a dreary and cold Sunday afternoon, but the smiling faces of six young girls enjoying a tea party Jan. 24 illuminated a board room on the fourth floor of the W.J. Cobbin Office Tower on the city’s North Side.

Dressed in colorful formal dresses and two-piece suit sets, the girls exchanged polite conversation, sipped hot tea and lemonade, and learned a few pointers about the importance of personal hygiene and good grooming.

The girls, ranging from 8 to 12 years old, are part of a new Youngstown- area community group known as “The Tea Party Club.”

The club was founded last year as a community effort to help provide inspiration, positive role models and proper etiquette to young girls, said Patricia Rudolph, a retired postal worker and Youngstown resident. With the help of some friends, she has helped coordinate the club and will continue to help organize its bimonthly tea parties.

How it works

Different community members serve as tea-party hosts, who can have the parties at their homes or outside venues of their choice.

The girls participating were all selected by referral and made a commitment to attend the bimonthly parties, Rudolph said.

Tea-party hosts are also selected by referral, but Rudolph said she is looking to expand the program to create more tea-party groups. The tea-party program is open to area girls ages 5 through 13.

The club’s first tea party was in November 2009 at the Southington home of Sandra Thompkins, a global human resources executive at Delphi Corp. It focused on an international theme, highlighting the importance of education and understanding different cultures, currency and living environments, Thompkins said.

Thompkins also shared her experiences of traveling to different countries and answered the girls’ questions about her transcontinental encounters.

“In addition to mentoring, we like to expose them to other things. It broadens their horizons and gives them the ability to travel [to different tea parties],” Thompkins said.

The theme of the Jan. 24 party was “Grooming for Life,” hosted by Geri Cobbin, chief of staff at CCS Trans, Inc. The party was hosted at CCS’s headquarters in the W.J. Cobbin building.

Topics covered included daily bathing, and teeth, nail and hair care. Cobbin also stressed the importance of wearing clean and pressed clothing and proper footwear.

“You have to make sure that you look presentable when you’re at school, at church or out shopping with your mom. ... You’re going to be a professional businesswoman, and that’s what it’s all about,” Cobbin told the girls.

In between bites of fruit salad, chicken-salad sandwiches and chocolate- covered marshmallow graham cracker desserts, the girls shared their thoughts.

“We learned how to be young ladies at the table,” said Lauryn Laney, 10, a fourth-grader at Youngstown Community School.

“I learned that we’re growing up, and we have to do these things because things are changing. You have to have a good appearance and not come out of the house all raggedy,” said Maryam Dennis, 12, a seventh-grader at St. Patrick School in Hubbard.

Mallory Kimble, 17, a senior at Chaney High School and Rudolph’s goddaughter, serves as a junior mentor for the group, helping to organize parties and coordinate transportation.

One of the perks of the tea party program is the transportation. A stretch limo, donated by Add-A-Touch Limousines of Youngstown, shuttles the girls to the party sites from a designated meeting place.

“I think it’s a nice program. I think they [the girls] learn a lot about etiquette. I think it gives them a chance to see what you can have if you work hard,” Kimble said.

Cobbin said she believes the program is an excellent chance for young girls to get together and to be mentored by adult role models.

“It gives them an opportunity to be exposed to situations that they may not normally be exposed to. It gives them motivation to progress, and hopefully the grooming theme will go with them forever,” Cobbin said.

The group’s next party will be in March.

Plans to expand

Rudolph said she’d eventually like to expand the program to include several tea-party groups and limit each group to six girls. If the program is able to grow, she’s also looking for a banquet facility or hall that would donate space to host one large tea party that includes all groups.

Anyone interested in learning more about the program can call Rudolph at (330) 799-6575.

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