Meet Kelly Rhodan, Cassie Marone and Bianca Forte: Growing Up, Giving Back
By Leslie Moore
For most high school students, especially girls, Prom is a highly anticipated event. It’s exciting to shop for the perfect dress and accessories, then dance the night away, feeling like a princess, making memories that will last a lifetime. However, prom dresses are expensive and many girls’ families can’t afford to provide this special memory for their daughter. This is where Katie’s Project, local non-profit, steps in. An all-volunteer organization, Katie’s Project provides new and gently used dresses for proms and other formal occasions to those who could not otherwise afford them. The Market Common donates retail space for Katie’s Closet, a boutique where girls approved to receive a dress come to shop.
Each area high school has ambassadors, volunteers that advocate for the organization within their school, help with fundraisers and work in Katie’s Closet. They get the word out to those who may wish to donate dresses and accessories and target the girls who need help. Three of these students stand out for their passion and dedication to this worthy cause. Kelly Rhodan, Cassie Marone and Bianca Forte, all graduating seniors, have given countless hours of their time to help other girls realize their dream of the perfect prom, in addition to maintaining a college-ready GPR, participating in other activities and working part-time jobs. These amazing young women sat down with Sasee to talk about their work with Katie’s Project.
Kelly Rhodan’s sister is the “Katie” of Katie’s Project. She started the non-profit for her senior project at St. James High School when Kelly was in the 8th grade. “I helped her from the beginning, and when she went to college, I joined the advisory board,” said Kelly. “It is a family thing – I want to keep it like she imagined it.”
I asked Kelly to tell me about her volunteer work and, after thinking for a minute, she told me a wonderful story. “A large group of foreign exchange students came into Katie’s Closet to get dresses, and they were helping each other choose the perfect one, laughing and trying on dress after dress. They were having a blast! I realized that these students would never have been able to afford to go to prom without Katie’s Project. They come here to study and have a lot of expenses – prom dresses are not usually in their budget.”
Athletic and lovely, Kelly not only played soccer, ran cross country and served as captain of the golf team during her high school career; she is an honor student who will graduate this month in the top 20 of her class. Kelly also does other volunteer work and was named “Class Clown” in her yearbook. “I’m moving to Florida right after graduation,” she told me. “I’ll be attending Florida University in Jacksonville and am going to take summer school classes this year. I also want a little time to get to know the area before the fall.”
“My sister was surprised that I’ve been so involved with Katie’s Project,” Kelly laughed. “We’re so different! I love science and math, and plan to major in Coastal Biology. I’m also a potter and love art. Recently, I worked on a Souper Bowl fundraiser and made over 200 bowls for people to buy and fill with soup. I hope to start something similar to Katie’s Project in Florida.”
Petite, pretty and poised, Cassie Marone will graduate this month from Conway High School. A member of the Thespian Honor Society, she started volunteering for Katie’s Project four years ago after her mom won tickets to the Katie’s Project Gala. “I went with her, and they talked to me about becoming an ambassador for my school. I really like the idea of helping someone have their dream prom.”
Cassie also had a favorite Katie’s Project story. “Last year I was helping decorate for our prom,” she began. “We were talking while we worked, and I found out that two of the girls were not going to be able to go to prom. By then the tickets were $100 each, and neither of them could afford a dress. My mom went to the administration, and they agreed to give them free tickets. We took them to Katie’s Closet for dresses, and we all hugged and cried – it was so emotional.” Cassie stressed to me that no one knows that the girls are given the dresses. “The dresses here are gorgeous, and we respect everyone’s confidentiality. It’s hard not to want them, though,” she laughed.
An actor and dancer, Cassie plans on owing her own dance studio one day. She has studied dance since she was a little girl and loves everything about theatre. “I have been the lead in the last three school plays,” she told me, “and I have been offered a job teaching dance at Conway High School next year. I want to start a competition dance team.” Cassie will also choreograph the music for the school’s theatrical productions next year. “I decided to go to Coastal Carolina University and major in theatre and minor in dance. That way, I can stay here and work, too. But, I’m definitely going to New York for my last two years of college!”
Attractive and charming, Bianca Forte is an academic star. She has been a student at the Early College program at Horry Georgetown Technical College her entire high school career. She and a group of other students were helping with the “Dancing with the Horry County Stars” fundraiser and needed outfits for their part in the event when they found out about Katie’s Project. “A couple of the girls couldn’t afford to buy the dresses we needed, so we all went to Katie’s Project. I was helped, so I decided I wanted to help and became an ambassador for the Early College Program.” This young lady knows how to get things done – when she found out her school didn’t have a prom she spearheaded the effort to make it happen by writing a proposal and heading up the fundraising effort. “It was a lot of work, but we had our prom!”
“At the last ‘prom boutique,’ a student and her mom were arguing,” Bianca began, when asked her favorite Katie’s Project memory. “The girl didn’t like any of the dresses and was not happy. Her mom broke down in tears and told her daughter that this was her dream; she had not been able to go to her prom in high school, and she wanted this for her daughter. The two of them stopped arguing and found a beautiful dress. It was very touching.”
Bianca is also involved with the Make A Wish Foundation and a Phi Beta Kappa Honor Student. She started a recycling team at her school and was captain of the soccer team until a knee injury forced her to drop out. She won a full scholarship to Furman University and graduated in May from Early College with her high school diploma and an Associate’s Degree. “Unfortunately, none of my college credits will transfer to Furman, but going there has always been my dream. I want to be a Pediatric Cardiologist and will be a Pre-Med major.”
These three community-minded young women have made our home a better place through their hard work and commitment. Kelly, Cassie and Bianca hope new volunteers will come forward to take their places as they leave for college. “We need students to step up!”
For more information about Katie’s Project, call 843-282-0454 or visit www.katiesproject.org.
I’m doing all right, getting good grades; The future’s so bright, I gotta wear shades.
About this writer
- Leslie Moore is the editor for Strand Media Group. A 25 year resident of Pawleys Island, she is blessed with a life filled with the love of family and friends and satisfying work to do every day.