School: Junior at Albertus Magnus High School
Town: Stony Point
Date: Sunday, June 10, 10am-3pm at Albertus Magnus
What started out at first to be a means to an end for Monica Branca to achieve her Gold Award in Girl Scouts, has turned into a passionate project she has planned to help young girls in Rockland County attend the prom.
Branca has started and is the President of the first Rockland Chapter of Becca's Closet. An initiative that started in memory of a young life lost too early, Rebecca Kirtman, who was 16 years old when she was killed in an auto accident in her state of Florida in 2003. Her family and friends wanted her memory to live on deciding to continue the dress drives she had started to help other girls attain prom dresses they couldn't afford.
"I am so glad to have found Becca's Closet because it has allowed me to make a difference in such a simple way. Becca's Closet helped me foster my desire to give back to the community. By starting a chapter, they offered me advice for start-up and any supplies and support I would need. I am proud to live the legacy of Rebecca Kirtman, the South Florida student that set the wheels in motion for Becca's Closet after her charitable work and untimely passing," said Monica Branca.
Branca started Becca's Closet just this past January. She used local newspapers to advertise the collection of dresses requesting that they are dry cleaned and on hangers. In total she has received about 300 dress donations. Almost half of those dresses have already been donated between Sloan Kettering Hospital, two previous boutiques held at Albertus, and one boutique held at Spring Valley High School.
"Albertus Magnus High School became involved with my project when I reached out to our principal, Mr. Troy. Without hesitation, he agreed to making Albertus the donation location for my Becca's Closet chapter. With help from Albertus staff and my guidance counselor Casey Ehrie, I was able to make the high school rotunda the drop-off location and use the cafeteria for two dress boutiques," said Branca.
Although Albertus generously offered the school as a drop-off location, Branca's home is where they are all stored. She looked into renting a storage unit but it was too costly so she purchased clothing racks and stores the dresses at her house. Also, some of the dresses donated were not dry cleaned and Touch of Elegance Cleaners in Stony Point generously donated dry cleaning services for these dresses.
On Sunday, not only will the girls be able to go home with a free dress they will have the opportunity to enter their names into raffles with the chance of winning salon services. Branca has reached out to businesses in the community who have generously donated services to the Becca's Closet cause.
"The raffles are a wonderful way to further help girls with their prom expenses. The raffle is free for girls to enter if they come to the boutique. All they have to do is put their name and phone number in the jar and hope that they are a winner," said Branca.
Take It From The Top salon in Pomona, NY donated free hair and nail appointments. And Macy's in the Palisades Mall donated a $100 Macy's shopping spree, which will be the grand prize, to be picked after the last boutique.
Branca has concentrated about 50 hours to this project alone since she started in January. Amazingly she finds time for other extracurricular activities in addition to her studies. She is Junior Captain of the Cheerleading team, played tennis for two years, she's involved with the school newspaper and Girl Scouts. She has been a Girl Scout since grade school and has earned her Bronze and Silver awards.
It comes as no surprise that in addition to her organization and leadership skills, Branca is very smart. She has made First Honors every year at Albertus and plans on taking AP courses and maintaining her Honors status through her senior year.
Branca has received support not only from the staff at Albertus, but from her family. They have been a big supporter of her initiative, opening their house and helping her prepare for the boutiques. On Sunday, she will have about five volunteers help her throughout the day.
"I am hoping for as many attendees as possible from Rockland County high school girls. In the past, I have had about 20 girls attend. I'd love to set a new record this time! Girls should come to find a dress not only for a prom, but perhaps for special events such as dances, weddings, and other formal occasions. All dresses and accessories are free of charge, so it's worth a visit! Seeing the huge smiles across girls' faces as they leave with beautiful dresses is the most rewarding feeling," said Branca.
At Albertus, Guidance Counselor Casey Ehrie has been assisting Branca prepare for the boutiques.
"I have been helping in facilitating things here at Albertus Magnus, but Monica has done ALL the work! She is a hard working, mature, responsible young lady who wanted to make a difference and is doing so. It has been a pleasure to work with her," said Ehrie.
Branca plans on establishing Becca's Closet as a club at Albertus. She has worked hard this year to establish the groundwork and would like to see it continue at Albertus after she graduates next year.
Becca's Closet is a year-round charity and Branca will continually be accepting and distributing dresses. If anyone would like to contact her directly, you can email her at BCRockland@aol.com. Any other hair/nail salons, limo services, stores, or dry cleaners that would be willing to donate can contact her as well.
If you or a student you know is in need a dress stop by the Albertus Magnus High School cafeteria on Sunday. Or if you have any dresses that you'd like to donate don't hesitate to contact Branca who greatly appreciates all donations.
Well done Monica Branca, your hardwork will no doubt help others. You are a true leader!