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Norwood - Local Town Pages

More than Glitz and Glam

By Donna Lane
Have you ever met someone who instantly made you feel like an old friend – welcoming you and making you feel that you are an important part of their lives? Maristela Rapo is that kind of person. She recently won an award from the Boston Arts Academy (BAA), the city’s only public high school for the visual and performing arts. The BAA Foundation honored Rapo, founder and president of the non-profit ‘Giving the Glam,’ as well as Governor Charlie Baker with its Champion Award. Presented annually, this award recognizes individuals who embody the school’s commitment to the arts, scholarship and citizenship.
What is Giving the Glam? It’s a 501(c)3 organization that provides a once-in-a-lifetime prom experience for underserved urban and suburban high school seniors who couldn’t otherwise afford to participate in their prom. The organization covers the cost of all attire and accessories, professional hair stylists, nails, photographer, and transportation to the prom venue. The showroom is located on Morse St., in Norwood.
“But we’re much more than a prom experience,” Rapo said. “We give students hope and a feeling of confidence, which many of them have never experienced before. I want them to know that they are special...and that they truly belong.” Rapo  knows of that which she speaks. 
Rapo was born in an underserved area of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. 
“I grew up in the favelas (the slums) of Rio de Janeiro, raised by a single mother, and then when she became ill, by my grandparents who were also raising my siblings and cousins, sometimes 15 of us in the house at a time. I only ever received hand-me-downs, which I was very grateful for, but knew the feeling of joy when I received something new that was just for me.” 
She still remembers that feeling very acutely each day.
“I want the students to know that they should not feel shame growing up poor,” Rapo said. “My mother taught me to always respect others. To treat all people with dignity and respect, myself included, and to try to understand what others are going through. I want these students to do the same and I give them this message.”
So, how did she go from the favelas to being the proprietor of two Boston-based high-end fashion boutiques, a philanthropist, wife, mother of four, and fairy-godmother to many high school students? 
Her journey is an interesting one. At 18 years old, she left Rio and went to Europe to pursue her dream of working in the world of fashion. On a trip home to visit her family, she met her husband-to-be, an American who was staying at her hotel. Three years later, they were married and made their home in Dover.
Working with and being trained by world-famous fashion designers from New York, she was finally able to pursue her dream. She became the proprietor of two high-end fashion boutiques, the Wolford in Copley Square and Giuseppe Zanotti footwear in Boston. When the recession hit, she was forced to sell her stores but never lost her love of fashion.
Fast forward to 2014 when her daughter Alexis, a student at Dover-Sherborn Regional High School, suggested that Rapo introduce herself to the school’s METCO program coordinator to see if she could help students with her fashion expertise, which she did.  
Several weeks later, she was asked to help one of the students who needed assistance getting a dress for prom. The METCO student lived in Dorchester. Her dad had recently died of cancer and she was being raised by her mom. Rapo took the girl to find a gown but didn’t stop there. She invited the young girl and her family to get ready at her home in Dover. She also arranged for a hair stylist and makeup artist, hired a photographer to record the experience, and a limo to bring her to prom. And Rapo picked up the tab for everything!
About a month later, the coordinator called and told her there were several other students that could use her help the following year. The requests for her help multiplied over the next few years, and by 2016 the number of students had increased to 50. And then 90 the following year! The expenses were adding up.
“By that time, my husband told me, ‘If you’re going to keep doing this, you’d better apply for nonprofit status,’ which I did,” Rapo said. “I knew I wanted each of the kids I was helping to feel special, to feel a sense of belonging. A lot of these kids struggle every day thinking they’re not good enough or not pretty enough. And some of them have special needs.”
Giving the Glam was awarded non-profit status in 2018. Since then, approximately 200 students have been helped each year. Rapo works with each student one-on-one. She brings each participant to select their prom outfit. The girls come to the showroom in Norwood to select from a dazzling array of gorgeous gowns. She says the gowns range from size 0 to 28 to accommodate both the petite and larger sized girls who she finds are usually very self-conscious. She brings in a seamstress to make sure the gowns fit perfectly. 
The boys are brought to Classic Tuxedo on Newbury Street in Boston to select their tuxes. Rapo said she’s grateful to Classic Tuxedo for partnering with her, providing their expertise, and making their beautiful tuxedos available for the program. All students get to keep the clothes they select. 
Each person who enters her showroom learns about Rapo’s past via a mural on one wall, and what she calls her present and future on the opposite wall. The “past” mural depicts her as a youngster in Brazil, with her pet blue macaw named Rio, the favelas which are brightly colored (unlike the actual drab buildings that they are), her as a child in her very own blue skirt and red cowboy boots (her treasured possessions), and the larger than life statue of Christ the Redeemer that overlooks the city.
The opposite wall contains elements of her philanthropy – Giving the Glam with photos of past recipients in all of their splendor and a giant Giving the Glam logo. In the front of the showroom, mannikins are dressed in student-owned attire, to be collected when they have a place for them.
In the past eight years, Rapo said she worked on-average 40 to 60 hours a week preparing students for prom. 
“It is a six-month process, and one that I love,” Rapo said.  “I am so very proud of these students, who despite all the challenges in life that you can imagine they face, they don’t give up on their education, which would be very easy for them to do. This is what makes me want to do more.”
This year, Rapo is helping 200 students from seven schools: Boston Arts Academy, two METCO schools, Norwood High School, Framingham High School, Boston International Newcomers Academy (BINCA), and for the first time, about 50 students from a high school in South Bronx, NY.
“I truly believe that you don’t have to be rich to give back, and that it’s our job to make a difference by using the gifts we have,” Rapo said. 
Rapo was asked how she felt about the recent award she received.
“I am very honored to have received this award and to work with the talented students at the school,” Rapo said. “And even though I don’t do what I do for rewards or recognition, it feels good to be recognized ... especially next to the governor,” (she said with a giggle.)
Rapo is working to gain additional sponsors and donations so she can “help more kids have an experience they will remember for the rest of their lives.” If you would like to help by becoming a sponsor or donating to this uplifting program, visit to