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Hagerstown woman teaches young women the social graces

August 20, 2010|By MARIE GILBERT
  • Ladetra Robinson of Hagerstown coordinates etiquette and manners classes for young people.
Ric Dugan, Staff Photographer

Dinner is eaten on the run. Television and movies celebrate rude behavior. E-mail and text messaging have eroded the art of conversation.

Social graces seem to be disappearing.

But if you walked into a meeting room at Hagerstown Presbyterian Church recently, you might have been pleasantly surprised.

Here, a small group of young women has been leading a charmed life.

They have learned about good posture, how to set a dinner table and the importance of saying "please" and "thank you."

This isn't exactly etiquette boot camp, but one message has been drilled home -- first impressions are lasting impressions.

That was a motto Ladetra Robinson learned early in life.

"There is no substitute for good manners," the Hagerstown woman said.

It was an important lesson shared by her mother, who taught etiquette classes when Robinson was growing up.

It is something she never has forgotten.

"You can be self-confident, you can be successful, but you never forget proper etiquette," she said.

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Born in North Carolina and raised in California, she graduated from the University of California-Los Angeles (UCLA) with a degree in biology.

Robinson worked for the Internal Revenue Service in California, then headed east where she worked for the Department of Agriculture in Washington, D.C.

While working in the corporate world, Robinson said she began to notice a trend.

"People thought they had to be aggressive to move up the ladder. Good manners fell by the wayside," she said.

It was a trend she also noticed among young girls.

After moving to Hagerstown, where her husband was born and raised, she decided to do something about it.

She opened Blossom School of Etiquette.

For seven weeks, young girls averaging 6 to 12 years of age, are taught the importance of social graces. They learn proper table manners, common courtesies, and how to walk, stand and sit.

"Sure, we teach which fork to use at dinner. But it's much more," she said. "It's about instilling self-confidence, positive attitudes and empowering young women for leadership."

The program has come a long way since Robinson first came up with the idea.

"In the beginning, people just weren't sure about an etiquette school," she said. "But I kept beating the pavement. Now, I have parents coming up to me wanting their children to be involved."

Robinson said she doesn't charge a fee for the classes, which she limits to about 10 children so she can offer one-on-one instruction.

"I feel so strongly about this, I do it from my heart," she said.

Robinson said she has a full-time job "but this is my real passion."

Eventually, she would like to add classes for teenagers and adults, both male and female.

"I have people asking me questions about etiquette all the time," she said.

This week, Robinson was making final arrangements for the Blossom School of Etiquette Cotillion Ball, which will be Saturday evening at Fountain Head Country Club.

"I wanted to do something special for the girls to make them feel really good about graduation," she said. "While some groups take a day trip, I thought it would be fun to get all dressed up and attend a cotillion."

Robinson said the girls are excited about the ball, and they and their escorts have been taking waltz lessons.

"It's fun to see these guys coming to class and dancing. I think they feel this is special, too," she said, "especially since they will be wearing tuxedos."

Robinson also organized a book club in 2006 called Sisters in Spirit.

"I love to read," she said. "After moving to Hagerstown, I would talk with other women about books we were reading. So I thought, why not get together as book lovers and form a club."

Robinson said the group focuses on books written by African-American authors, "but we're a multicultural group, all with a passion for literature."

Robinson is a member of the Washington County Commission for Women, a graduate of the Hagerstown Neighborhoods 1st program and a community volunteer.

"Service is important to me," Robinson said. "It's a part of who I am."

Tickets for the cotillion ball are available for $20, which includes dinner and a performance by school members. For more information, call 240-520-5676. Tickets will not be available at the door.

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