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The Charity Ball has been a cherished Buffalo tradition for more than 100 years. Many know that the profits benefit charity, but few may know much about the rich tradition and history behind this event. Many teens who have gone say it's a great place to see old friends as well as meet new teens from a diverse spectrum of schools. But there's much more to the ball.

Maria M. Love (1840-1931), a Clarence resident and social services pioneer, established the Fitch Creche, the very first day care center in the United States providing child care, medical treatment and education for needy children.

The Charity Ball dates back to 1880 when it initially started as a dance for adults to raise funds for Love's social work.

In 1903, the dance was opened to kids because the adults thought the beautifully decorated ballroom should be used for more than one event. The first dance raised a total of $700. The 2010 Charity Ball raised more than $123,000.

Laura Giacobbe, the publicity chairwoman for the Charity Ball, has been a board member for the past three years.

"It's amazing that [Maria Love's] tradition has continued to raise money for the Convalescent Fund. We're still giving money to these people in need," Giacobbe said.

Lori Bassett, a 10-year board member, adds, "All the money stays here in Erie County. The money helps the people in need right in our community, which is wonderful."

There is both a middle-school and high-school dance, each with a maximum of 1,200 students.

In the early 1900s, teens used dance cards to tell them who their partner was for each dance. Each student frantically searched the dance floor to make sure they filled up their card. Now, many teens dance in big groups and mingle with others.

> Getting ready

Brendan Stone, a senior at Canisius High School, is already excited about this year's dance. "I like the fact that it goes to charity. It's a good cause and it's also a good time. There's a lot of anticipation for it. The atmosphere is pretty appealing to high school kids."

He says he spends just 10 minutes preparing for the dance. "All you have to do is get clothes on after a shower."

Easy for him to say, most girls might reply.

Chris Wallinder, a sophomore at Grand Island High School, adds, "Girls take forever before dances. I don't understand it."

Ibby Kalla, a junior at the Gow School, echoes the boys' statements: "You just do what you have to do, but for girls, they have to get their hair and nails done, find the right dress, and a lot more."

Ibby enjoys dancing and is already anticipating what the DJ will have to offer.

Juliette Brown, Natalie Schoetz and Alex Holland, all seniors at Buffalo Seminary, have been attending the Charity Ball since fifth grade.

"You just see so many people that you've grown up with. It's that one time of year that you get to see everyone," Juliette said.

She agrees with Brendan that girls put more effort into preparing for dances. She believes feeling comfortable is a top priority.

"Dances are such a big production for girls. They have to look right, they have to feel good. And if they don't feel good, they aren't going to think they look right."

Alex, also a chaperone for the middle-school dance, said, "I love first entering the dance and seeing all the little kids and then all the high schoolers in really pretty dresses."

> The dress

All three girls are excited to make the most of their last Charity Ball.

Swapping dresses with friends is a good way to save money.

Have a girls' night with friends to try on and select dresses without the hassle of dropping lots of money.

"No one's going to notice if you've worn a dress more than once," Juliette assures girls.

Alex shops online for the best deals but sometimes struggles finding something that isn't too promlike or informal.

Natalie forms a picture in her mind of her "dream dress" and tries her best to find something similar and "totally different than anyone will ever have."

> First time?

Their advice for first-timers to the high school portion of the ball?

"Be with your friends. Don't worry about other people. Mingle and meet new kids," Juliette suggests. "I'm really looking forward to being right up front where the speakers are and just dancing like crazy. I really just go there to have fun and dance like no one's watching and, well, hopefully they aren't," she said with a smile.

Brendan said, "The most important thing is having a good time. If you're going with someone, make sure they are having a good time, also."

"Have fun with the people you're with and everything else will fall into place," Alex tells first-timers.

Ibby suggests "leaving your comfort zone and not being afraid to talk to people. It seems like every year it gets better and better."

And dealing with the peer pressure to drink? Each of the students suggests knowing how to handle an offer to consume alcohol before the dance.

"There will be a lot of people searching for any alcohol or signs of drinking. It reflects badly on you, your school and the people you're with," said Ibby.

"It's not worth the risk," Chris adds. "You'll definitely get caught. It's just stupid."

"Don't even try it," Giacobbe says firmly. We know how to check for alcohol, and you will be denied entrance into the dance."

The Charity Ball will be held Dec. 2 at the Buffalo Convention Center downtown. Tickets, which are $47, must be ordered online (http://www.marialovefund.org/charity_ball/ticket_information/. No formal invitations will be sent out this year.

"The Maria Love Convalescent Fund fills the gap for a lot of people where they don't have anywhere else to turn," Giacobbe said.

So dress up for Love and experience a lasting Buffalo tradition to benefit those in need in the community.

Leanora Karnath is a senior at Buffalo Seminary.