Striving to help teenagers be the “belles of the ball,” Love Travels’ officials are reaching out to the public to donate prom apparel.
“Belles of the Ball is the ultimate prom dress shopping experience,” said Cartersville resident Darian Lyons, donations representative for Belles of the Ball and social chair for Love Travels. “We have a red carpet, photographers, consultants [and] vendors to give out free hair and makeup vouchers to redeem the day of the girl’s prom.
“We have food, a DJ, photo booth and so much more. Nothing [will] cost, everything is free. Everyone uplifts each other and positive energy is all throughout the room.”
Still fine-tuning the location, Love Travels will tentatively present Bartow’s Belles of the Ball event in late February. The other two offerings will be held at the University of West Georgia,1601 Maple St. in Carrollton, Feb. 16; and The Villages at Carver YMCA, 1600 Pryor Road in Atlanta, March 16.
“The public can support by donating gently-used prom dresses, shoes, jewelry — [and] gift cards for us to use as giveaways,” Lyons said, referring to the collection drive that is underway through the end of April. “We need monetary donations for our scholarship. We will be giving out a college scholarship to a deserving high school senior at each event.
“All checks can be written out to Love Travels. We have a Cash App — $LoveTravelsBartow . Our PayPal is PayPal.Me/LoveTravelsUWG. We also have a GoFundMe ‘Belles of the Ball.’ If you have anything that could [help] with the event, such as dressing racks or anything big or small, it would be appreciated.”
A 2018 graduate of the University of West Georgia, Cartersville resident Scottlin Smith launched the Belles of the Ball outreach in 2016.
“The inspiration [for] Belles of the Ball came from growing up watching my mom struggle around prom time, when I made homecoming court and various formal activities,” said Smith, director of Belles of the Ball and Love Travels’ founder and secretary. “My mom would sometimes skip a bill to make sure I could get the dress I wanted. I was not able to just leave the store the day I found my dress. She would have to make payments and simply sacrifice. I always seek to use things I go through to ensure other people don’t have to go through it. I wanted to take the burden off of parents and also give girls the opportunity to fully enjoy their prom day stress free. I started giving away my prom dresses to friends in need the year after I wore it. Then the event just bloomed into Belles of the Ball. I started asking friends to lend me their dresses [to] someone else I knew in need.
“I hosted the first Belles of the Ball event at the Cartersville Goodwill Career Center February 2016 as a sophomore in college. While attending Georgia Highlands College from my GateKey Scholarship, I collected over 200 dresses and stored them in my mom’s living room. When I transferred to the University of West Georgia, I continued the event by hosting a Belles of the Ball on campus for young girls in high school and promoting post-secondary education. We had girls come from as far as Alabama for the event. The event has just continued to grow. We were featured on Channel 2 ‘People 2 People’ and 104.7 The Fish.”
Collecting more than 3,000 gowns since the event’s inception, Smith and her colleagues have assisted over 800 girls with their prom experience.
“Some of our girls go through everything from broken homes to suicide attempts to bullying to low self-esteem and more,” Smith said. “The purpose of this event for me is about more than dresses. It to show young girls that they are valuable, loved, worthy and can overcome any obstacle that life throws at them. A lot of them have to grow up early. I want them to have a day where they don’t have to worry about their problems; they don’t have to look at a price tag; and everything is free. We use this day to pour back into young girls.
“To me, helping young girls get prom dresses means that I am giving them a chance. Some young women have never heard that [they are] beautiful. Some young girls don’t have a positive role model. I seek to be that positive voice in their ear. When I was younger, I sometimes felt misunderstood. So I am here to show young girls that I understand. I want to help them in any way I can. I give parents my contact information to be able to help in any way that I can even after the event.”
Established in June 2017, Love Travels features a pair of chapters, one of which is situated in Bartow.
“Our mission is to spread love in as many places as possible through service, while developing professionally to better serve our community,” Smith said, adding some of the organization’s outreach efforts have included a mission trip to Ichmul, Mexico; service summer camp in Bartow; and a road cleanup with Keep Bartow Beautiful. “Our motto is through love we shall conquer all. A quote from MLK Jr. that we try to stand by is, ‘Darkness cannot [drive] out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot [drive] out hate; only love can do that.’
“We have two chapters — one at the University of West Georgia. This chapter is dedicated to our college students and showing them how to be the change they wish to see in the world. The Bartow County Chapter is dedicated to our youth and teaching them to love their neighbor and to be the helping hand.”