She was a model, a dancer, a writer, a mentor and a volunteer.
Tatiana “Tati” McIntosh juggled several activities as a University of Florida sophomore. When the 19-year-old died May 18, 2007 in a single-car accident while returning to school from her Southwest Ranches home, her life was cut short.
But her dreams live on. Nine month's after McIntosh's death, her mother, Tanya Ragbeer, started a nonprofit called Transforming America Through Interaction, or TATI, a youth mentoring organization aimed at instilling values in the next generation of Caribbean Americans.
“This organization has given me a purpose,” Ragbeer said.
Each program TATI offers represents some aspect of McIntosh's life. The organization's latest project, a formal dress give-away that will benefit disadvantaged high school girls in Jamaica, is a tribute to McIntosh's modeling career. She was signed with John Casablanca Modeling agency and also participated in the Miss Miami Carnival Queen Pageant and the Miss Broward Caribbean Carnival Queen Pageant, where she placed first runner-up in both.
“Giving away these prom dresses fits right in with who she was,” said Ragbeer, past president of the Greater Carribean American Chamber of Commerce in Broward County.
TATI is the Caribbean version of Becca’s Closet, another local charity that provides high school girls with prom dresses. That charity is named after its founder, Rebecca Kirtman, a Nova High student who was 16 when she died in a car accident on Interstate 595 in August 2003.
The idea for the TATI dress give-away started when Ragbeer's friend, Angela Baker-Brown, offered to donate 60 formal gowns to the organization. Brown, who owns Tatiana's Bridal shop in Coconut Creek, met Ragbeer about two years ago when she opened an account at Bank United, where Ragbeer is Vice President and Senior Financial Center Manager. The women shared an instant bond: they both had daughters about the same age named Tatiana.
“It's bittersweet,” said Baker-Brown, who opened her store 22 years ago shortly after her daughter's birth. "Through this organization we can help a lot of young women."
In Jamaica, high schools hold events for graduating seniors – similar to proms – called “graduation balls.” Some girls can't go because they can't afford a dress, Ragbeer said. She recalled a conversation with one of the teachers at St. Andrew High School for Girls, where Ragbeer is an alumna. The teacher told her that one of the students came to school one day without her gym clothes. The girl lived in an orphanage and had to lend her clothes to another child.
“It was an eye-opener to what's happening down there,” Ragbeer said, "a wakeup call.”
So far, Ragbeer has identified four Kingston schools, including her alma mater, where she will donate the dresses. The others are Merl Grove High School, Ardenne High School and St.
Andrew Technical High School. She has also enlisted the help of Jamaica Counsel General Ricardo Allicock to contact Jamaican alumni associations in the tri-county area to identify more girls in need of dresses. Ragbeer plans to travel to Jamaica on May 17 to deliver the gowns.
“These dresses will go into the hands of young people who really need it,” Baker-Brown, a Margate resident, said.
Another TATI program that celebrates McIntosh's life is the National Caribbean American Heritage Month youth essay competition, which TATI is planning along with the Institute of
Carribean Studies, the Greater Carribean American Chamber of Commerce and other organizations. The essay competition is open to 11th and 12th graders who live in Broward or Miami-Dade counties and have at least one parent or guardian who was born in the Carribean.
Ragbeer said the essay competition is a fitting program for TATI because McIntosh was an excellent writer. Shortly before her death, she met with UF's newspaper editor about starting a fashion column.
TATI also focuses on mentoring girls, another of McIntosh’s legacies. While attending UF, she was a mentor to a young girl who lived in Gainesville, often visiting her after classes and on the weekends. She was also the recipient of UF's Presidential Scholarship for volunteerism.
Keeping her daughter's memory alive eases the pain of losing her, Ragbeer said. “Little things trigger memories of her. I always think, ‘Tati would have done that’ or ‘Tati would have said that.’ “It's a daily process.
Photo by Khary Bruyning. Young ladies in prom dresses pose behind a photo of Tatiana “Tati” McIntosh, whose mother gives free formal dresses to teens in Jamaica.
THE MORE YOU KNOW
For more information about the TATI dress give-away, contact Tanya Ragbeer at 954-802-4291 or visit www.taticaribbean.com.
For more information about Becca’s Closet, log onto www.beccascloset.org, call 954-424-9999 or e-mail email@example.com.