By Ben Tinsley
DALLAS — June 20 marked the second year anniversary of the death of Pam Barnes — a former program coordinator and director of programming credited with creating the Dallas Holocaust Museum/Center for Education and Tolerance’s junior board of directors.
The junior board, which consists of Dallas-area high school students from a variety of public and private schools, is under the guidance and direction of Dr. Charlotte Decoster, the Dallas Holocaust Museum’s assistant director of education.
Dr. Decoster said students who are admitted to the board believe very strongly in the mission of the museum and that the public should be thoroughly educated about the Holocaust.
“That drive is what makes them great on the board,” Dr. Decoster said.
The junior board maintains a vigorous presence in the community. In May, for instance, junior board members provided Hidden Child Testimony and lit remembrance torches for three Holocaust survivors at a local Yom HaShoah observance.
As members of the museum’s junior board, they dedicate themselves to volunteerism and community service.
Henry Ainsworth, outgoing vice president of the junior board, said it is an honor to serve.
“For me … this is a call for social justice and tolerance,” he said.
When organizing the junior board, Barnes recruited Sarah Terrace as one of the volunteer adult supervisors.
Terrace explained Barnes had the vision for the board, “but was trying to work out the details including applications, meetings, and goals.”
Barnes also brought Danielle Laniewski aboard as a volunteer adult supervisor.
After the concept of a junior board was formulated, it was presented to the Dallas Holocaust Museum board and CEO.
“It was approved and we had our first meeting — after going through the applications — in January of 2014,” Laniewski said. “The concept was simple: Give high schoolers a way to give back to the museum and community through service projects, volunteering and helping to raise awareness of the mission of the museum.”
Outgoing Junior Board President Kas Tebbetts said she was a high school sophomore when she received the email from her school community service director about new opportunities in the community such as the junior board.
“I had been fascinated with World War II history since sixth grade — and still vividly remembered my school field trip to the museum in seventh grade,” Tebbetts said. “I had worked with history museums out of town, and was ecstatic to have the opportunity to work with history in Dallas.”
Tebbetts quickly found the leadership training she was seeking; she became vice president of the board her junior year and president the next.
“I’ve never been afraid to speak to a crowd, but I think one of the best things I learned on the junior board was how to communicate with individuals,” Tebbetts said. “The museum introduced me to a diverse community of survivors, their relatives, museum staff, my fellow board members, and members of the Jewish community. The amazing people I met, and had the privilege of speaking to, made me a better leader.”
When working to create the junior board, Pam Barnes focused on a unique idea: holding a special prom for Holocaust survivors.
This prom was inspired by the many Holocaust survivors who experienced abrupt, unusual childhoods because of persecution that forced many them to leave home and not finish school.
“These survivors lack a traditional high school experience,” explained Kate Fundis, 16, junior board member and incoming junior at the Hockaday School. “When one thinks of high school, prom or a senior dance often comes to mind. The survivors never had a chance to experience that. So we decided that a prom was the best way to give them a fun high school experience they never had.”
The idea for the Survivor Prom originated in the junior board’s very first meeting, Terrace said.
“Discussions continued through several meetings,” Terrace said. “We even considered making the prom an afternoon tea!”
But all these plans were stalled when Pam Barnes became deathly ill.
The legacy of Pam Barnes
Under Pam Barnes, the Survivor Prom was the junior board’s big goal. But because she took ill and died before it could come to fruition, everything fell into limbo.
“All plans were put on hold when Pam became sick,” Terrace said.
Barnes succumbed to triple negative breast cancer on Friday, June 20, 2014.
A celebration of her life was held at the Dallas Holocaust Museum on Sunday, June 29, 2014. She was lauded for her passion for history at the celebration.
It was shortly after this point that Dr. Decoster was asked to take Barnes’ place leading the junior board. She agreed and picked up the work from there.
It took some time and redirection, but the board continued to organize and slowly and painstakingly put together the prom idea that Barnes worked so hard to help create.
Kas Tebbetts said it took a really long time to realize the Survivor Prom.
“Initially, it was intended to be held in 2014,” Tebbetts explained. “I remember making countless calls to a 1940s swing band begging them to lower their prices to match our budget that year. Sadly, the junior board wasn’t quite ready to put together a whole event that first year.”
But by spring 2015, junior board members had divided and conquered all the duties of the event: venue, kosher food and drinks, entertainment, invitations, and decorations.
“Jesuit High School was kind enough to give us a venue for free, and we loved welcoming the survivors into a casual party where they could experience the simple joy and slight awkwardness of a high school prom,” Tebbetts said. “I know it can’t make up for the epic 1940s swing dance-filled American proms that the war took from the survivors, but I hope it gave them a bit of their youth back.”
Eventually, on Sunday, March 22, 2015, the Survivor Prom took place at Jesuit College Preparatory School of Dallas. The prom lasted from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. that day.
About 25 survivors attended the prom, but that number was bolstered to 75 by their families, their caretakers, and Holocaust museum employees and volunteers, Kate Fundis said.
As Kas Tebbetts said, there was much organization necessary to make the event a reality: Junior board members gathered donations from local businesses, schools, nonprofits, and the Holocaust Museum itself to sponsor the event.
Group members sent out invitations, had the prom catered, organized live music, provided boutonnieres, and decorated the event space and tables.
Local Holocaust survivor Max Glauben provided junior board members with his collection of European music from the time frame of the adolescence of survivors.
Glauben is an active volunteer in the Dallas Jewish community and for the Dallas Holocaust Museum. He lectures on the Holocaust in schools, churches, and colleges and various organizations and institutions.
Glauben — who can be seen front and center in many of the photos taken at the prom — said he had a lot of fun.
Those who could dance did so, and those who couldn’t could still listen to the wonderful music, he said.
“It was a really wonderful idea,” Glauben said last month. “The Holocaust survivors who were able to attend had a very nice time. It was a really nice gathering for everybody.”
Danielle Laniewski agreed that the prom provided fine moments for all involved.
“I was so proud of the board for this,” Laniewski said. “They came up with the concept because they wanted to do something fun for the survivors that was a little different. They figured that since they didn’t have a prom growing up, that this would be a great event for them. And it was!”
Laniewski said the fact that the live music was tailored to the tastes of the Holocaust survivors truly complemented the decorations, flowers, and food.
“It was just a couple of hours but everyone seemed to enjoy themselves,” Laniewski said.
As volunteer adult leader to the junior board, Laniewski is charged with helping advise the students and working with them to achieve their goals.
Henry Ainsworth said he strongly believed in the importance of inviting all Holocaust survivors in the area for a fun “night out.”
“We played some music from their childhood, had a photo booth, and talked with them all night,” Ainsworth said. “It was really special.”
Kate Fundis said it was obvious the survivors were having a great time.
“Those who could stood up to dance, and everyone clapped their hands to the music and enjoyed the lively atmosphere,” Fundis said.
Sarah Terrace said the interaction between the generations at the dance was amazing.
“When one of the young men from the junior board held out his arm to escort one of our ladies, you could see the transformation in her face with a twinkle in her eye,” Terrace said. “Elements of modern proms such as a photo booth were incorporated. Watching folks dress up for their photos was a hoot.”
Terrance said each table at the prom had a centerpiece prepared by students from area high schools including several organizations at Thomas Jefferson High School, Townview High School, South Grand Prairie High School, and McLean Middle School.
At the end of the prom, junior board members encouraged the survivors to choose a centerpiece to take home.
“It was so much fun to watch everyone choose — like kids in a candy shop,” Terrace said.
Dr. Decoster commended members for the time, effort and fundraising it took to put on the prom. She gave special thanks to Rich Perry, director of community service and social justice at Jesuit Dallas.
“It was a huge endeavor,” Decoster said. “He provided the venue at no charge.”
In an email, Perry responded that the prom was very worthwhile.
“It was an amazing program last school year,” Perry said.
Recruiting new members
And now, the board is ready to open its ranks to new members.
There were as many as 13 junior board members at the time of the prom. But after a series of graduations and departures, there are roughly eight members right now, Kate Fundis said.
Dr. Decoster said the board, in its third year, has lost leaders Kas Tebbetts and Henry Ainsworth to high school graduation.
So it is hoped there will be new and enthusiastic applicants to take their place.
“All the requirements of the junior board are, we meet monthly online and try to meet twice a year in person,” Dr. Decoster said. “We have to have six volunteer projects. Junior members get to attend the regular board members and meet with the (Holocaust Museum) board of directors.”
Members do not have to be Jewish. Henry Ainsworth, for instance, is not. The 18-year old just graduated Jesuit College Preparatory School of Dallas.
Ainsworth said he intends to stay busy in the Holocaust museum community in New York next year. He will attend NYU Tisch school of the Arts to study drama.
Kas Tebbetts, 18, also is not Jewish. She just graduated from Greenhill School in Addison and will attend Yale University in the fall. She said she hopes to focus her education on history and urban studies.
Attending Yale will place her at a great distance from Dallas, but Kas Tebbetts said she still plans to check in constantly with her fellow board members as an alum.
“I can’t wait to see how the board progresses and grows,” she said. “More kids in DFW need to know about this amazing chance to work with great history and kind people.”
So far, the board has been fortunate enough to have solid, dedicated members. And Dr. Decoster hopes that will continue.
“All of our members are highly motivated in everything they do,” Dr. Decoster said. “We try and meet at least once a month while school is in session.”
Students who wish to apply to join the board can fill out an online application, which they must submit with a school transcript. The junior board will convene, review the application, and then take a formal vote on whether to admit the applicant.
Kate Fundis said she became involved with the board thanks to a family friend who docents at the museum.
“She suggested I apply, and I thought the board would be a great way to get involved with the museum and Holocaust survivors,” Fundis said. “I joined the board shortly after it completed its first year.”
Fundis said it has been a pleasure to watch the board evolve into its current role as more members joined and brought ideas.
Members must demonstrate poise and initiative, and — perhaps most importantly — move beyond shyness.
“The junior board has given each member a sense of purpose greater than their own desires,” Sarah Terrace said. “At the end of their senior year, we hope that this service continues in the next phase of their life.”
Any high school aged student who wishes to apply to the junior board can do so online at: https://dallasholocaustmuseum.formstack.com/forms/junior_board_application
Max Glauben said he hopes the accomplishments of the late Pam Barnes will always be honored and remembered by the junior board. Glauben said Barnes was a good friend who accomplished quite a bit for the Dallas Holocaust museum.
“She was an unbelievable person,” Glauben said. “She went far above the call of duty for what she was doing.”