PUBLISHED: 10:20 AM on Wednesday, June 8, 2005
The little things that lead to success

Photo by Christina Holmgren
  Monica Brandner in her Valley home, which will also be the setting for her etiquette classes.
Ever wish someone else could reinforce your feeble attempts at getting your kids to chew with their mouths closed, your pre-teen daughters to dress in a way that doesn't show off everything God gave them, and your teenage boys to get up, shake hands, and look your boss in the eye when she comes for dinner?

Monica Brandner might have the answer to your prayers. Brandner, a former air stewardess who was awarded the title of Mrs. Alaska in the 1998 Mrs. United States pageant, is launching her new business "Etiquette Essentials" in Juneau this spring, hoping to bring good manners and understanding of the ins and outs of formal social interaction to children and adolescents.

Brandner says she discovered her passion for investing in the lives of young people during the Mrs. United States pageant.

It's hard to believe today, as she's moving gracefully through her tastefully decorated apartment, that Brandner ever felt out of place or in need of etiquette training. But during her year as Mrs. Alaska United States, Brandner says she felt "personally challenged in the area of how I carried myself, and my people skills."

So she looked up an etiquette school in the Seattle phone book and set up an appointment with Deborah King of Final Touch Finishing School - an hour-long meeting that would sow a seed that would bear fruit years later.

As Mrs. Alaska, Brandner was a frequent keynote speaker for many women's groups -- but it was the girls-only weekenders for churches that nurtured the seed in her heart and mind. Instead of lecturing to pre-teen and adolescent girls, she turned the weekenders into hands-on, concrete, fun sleepovers, complete with manicures, pedicures, and talk about dating.

"I felt I had found a way to reach into their world and touch their lives," Brandner said. A way that made the girls listen to her, because she had first earned their trust during the weekender.

"Every time I did one, I found myself thinking 'I was born to do this'," she said.

So after going through training with King in Seattle, Brandner is starting her own etiquette classes in Juneau. Initially, she will offer classes for children and adolescents, but she's planning to branch out to business etiquette as well.

Brandner emphasizes that so much of how we are perceived is based on our appearance and social skills. We all know we judge the manners of children - but it doesn't end there.

She talks about how college students can have all the academic knowledge necessary in their field, and graduate with honors -- but if they don't know how to behave when they show up for a job interview and the interviewer takes them out for lunch, they still won't get the job.

And etiquette, she said, is not some dusty old concept leftover from a society that's gone. "It's about kindness and respect," she said. It's also not something that's "only for the wealthy," she said. "Lots of times, money doesn't equal social skills." Instead, she said, her classes are her way of "reaching out to kidthat don't have a lot, so that they can be a step ahead of the game."

The first set of etiquette classes Brandners has planned for this summe are focusing on younger children, ages 5-12. One afternoon session will teach party manners - how to properly interact at a birthday party, as host and as guest. "We'll even learn how to eat real birthday cake neatly."

A longer, five-week series (an hour-long session each week) will turn out a class of young ladies and gentlemen, Brandner promises. The class includes talks about positive friendships, self-esteem, telephone etiquette, basic table manners, introductions, personal body care and writing thank-you cards.

"We will end the class with a 30-minute graduation where the parents are invited to see what their children have learned."

Later classes include a junior high program for girls, called "Life Skills."

"I want to teach them that beauty is something that largely comes from within. It's in your heart -Eit's not something you paint on."

"However," she smiles, "we'll do the painting-on, too."

Having raised two daughters herself, Brandner feels passionately about young girls and teaching them about body image, posture, a positive ttitude, and goal setting, as well as age-appropriate dress and makeup. That class will end with a photo shoot, where the girls get to dress up and wear makeup and see for themselves how beautiful they can look without falling for the latest, revealing fashion trends.

People might think talking to teenage girls about clothes is the epitome of superficial - but Brandner has a message for them:

"Dress is unspoken communication. You need to be aware of the messages your clothes send, that you basically tell people how to treat you by how you dress and carry yourself."

And that's a message not only for teenagers, but a lesson they will benefit from for life, she said.

"The little things that we tend to neglect are the things that will carry you to success," she said.

For more information about the classes, contact Monica Brandner at Etiquette Essentials, 789-7476.