NAPLES — In a world of self-centeredness, a group of teenage girls stands out for their focus on making others happy.
Thirty-five young women are logging volunteer hours and learning the meaning of genuine beauty through a newly formed charitable organization in Naples. The Mother Frances de Sales Auxiliary to the Homeless aims to develop character in young women while improving the lives of others in the community, including the area’s homeless population.
It’s modeled after a similar organization in Pittsburgh, St. Lucy’s Auxiliary to the Blind, which was started by Rhodora Donahue 49 years ago. Now her daughter, Rebecca Donahue Foxhoven, and several other family members have begun a work in Naples.
The two-year program requires participants to earn 50 volunteer hours from “corporal works of mercy,” meaning direct assistance to another human being -- no handing out fliers for a nonprofit or petting puppies at the Humane Society.
“I only want to do something that helps somebody else and brings them happiness,” Foxhoven explained. “The girls that come through this program will be future leaders and future volunteers, giving back to everybody they can.”
Participating young women also learn character building skills through active programs designed to strengthen relationships and develop virtues such as modesty, purity and chastity. At the end of their two-and-a-half-year commitment, the “Rose Girls” are rewarded with an elegant ball and a medallion featuring the image of Mother Frances de Sales Aviat, who vowed to “forget myself entirely” and espoused the moral precept: “Let us work for the happiness of others.”
“It’s a formal affair,” explained Foxhoven, who was herself a “Medallion Girl” in Pittsburgh, along with all her sisters. “They wear long, white dresses and long white gloves, and they have escorts in tuxes.”
The first Rose Ball in Naples is scheduled for Nov. 30, 2013. The auxiliary currently is fundraising for the gala affair, with proceeds to be given to organizations which aid the homeless in Naples.
The auxiliary also holds monthly events for the Rose Girls, including teas, retreats and spa days, all designed with purpose for molding character.
“There’s so many distractions in society today,” noted Colleen Dunphy, chairperson for the 2013 Rose Ball. “Sometimes the foundations that are important to create a good, moral character are forgotten and aren’t as real to the kids.”
Dunphy is excited her daughter, Emily, has the opportunity to be part of the pioneering class of Rose Girls. Emily has taken the motto of working for the happiness of others to heart, volunteering far beyond the program requirements. She’s logged more than 600 hours as a student leader with the Collier County Parks and Recreation Department, working with disabled children in a special therapeutic program.
“I really love it,” said Emily, who admits to spending every day she has off from school with “her” kids. “I’m just so attached to all of them. I’ve always been interested in kids with special needs, and I’ve always wanted to make a difference in their life.”
She said she enjoys participating in Rose Girl events because the environment is positive and supportive. “It really helps with confidence,” she said.
Eva Ferral volunteers in the “Barn Buddies” program, helping children learn to ride horses. She also started a school club with fellow Rose Girl Mary-Alex Forgione at Seacrest Country Day School, focusing on raising social consciousness and awareness. The club recently collected more than 1,000 pounds of clothing to send to Haiti.
“I was inspired by the Rose Girl program because of all the work they do with charity,” Forgione said. “I needed to get more involved in my community. The Rose Girl program gives me the opportunity to use what I have to give to others, not just sit back and wait for other people to help.”
Another Rose Girl, Davis Vertin, works with disabled children through the Naples Equestrian Challenge. She credits the Rose Girls program with teaching her the significance of giving back.
“It’s made me more aware of how much community service is important in your life,” Vertin said.
The next Rose Girl event is a fashion show Nov. 4 at St. Ann Jubilee Center run by Pure Fashion founder Brenda Sharman. A nationally known speaker, Sharman will tutor the girls on modesty and beauty the day before the fashion show. Then, the girls will be equipped to pull together their own outfits to model in front of parents, community members and incoming participants of the program, the 2015 Rose Girls.
Although the organization is faith-based, it is open to girls of all faiths and backgrounds, Foxhoven noted. Applications are accepted when girls are in eighth and ninth grade.
Foxhoven said she is excited to be helping foster a lifestyle of volunteerism for a new generation of young women, including her own daughter, Shannon.
“When they get out and work in the community, these girls personify kindness and charity,” she said.
IF YOU GO
What: Rose Girl Pure Fashion Show
When: Sunday, Nov. 4, from 1-3 p.m.
Where: St. Ann Jubilee Center, 542 Eighth Avenue S., Naples