Rita's Closet fashion show and tea raises money for scholarships, 'keeps Rita's light illuminated'

People streamed through the doors of the Carroll County Career and Technology Center in Westminster on the afternoon of March 3. The tables were set with linens and music wafted through the dining hall. A collection of china tea cups surrounded a runway, where attendees were treated to a glamorous live fashion show, all of it to support the nonprofit, Rita’s Closet.

Tamara Medeiros turned tragedy into hope for others when she founded Rita’s Closet in 2012, just after her daughter, Rita Medeiros — one of her triplets — lost her life in a vehicle collision. She was just 16, with a newly purchased prom dress in the back of her car.


Rita wasn’t able to have her special day, but her mother vowed to help other girls have their special prom night. With her husband Jack at her side and with help from the Community Foundation of Carroll County, she formed the nonprofit, which offers free prom dresses to those who cannot afford one, but also sells reasonably priced dresses in their shop at TownMall of Westminster. Money from sold dresses funds four scholarships annually to graduating high school seniors in Carroll County.

Amy Linton brought her mother and her mother-in-law to the Rita’s Closet Fashion Show and Tea. She said it was her first time to attend and she was impressed.

“It was wonderful,” Linton said of the fashion show. “Little girls went first with everyday fashions, then older girls from elementary to middle school. Then there were party dresses and prom dresses. Some males modeled in this part of the show as escorts, but they also walked the runway on their own. Then there was a [young woman in a] wedding gown that was absolutely to die for. At the end all the boys and girls came in and it was set up like a wedding theme. The girls had beautiful red dresses with the guys in their tuxes on the other side. They had the mother of the groom. They were all carrying flowers and it looked like a great wedding theme at the end. It was nonstop, and it was wonderful.”

Medeiros said it was the largest turnout since they started holding the annual event in 2013.

“It’s how we make something good out of something really terrible for us,” she said. “It’s knowing we can carry Rita’s memory on in a special way. She was a dancer for many years, she played Rugby with the Marauders, and twirled with the No Doubt Twirling Team. She was part of the Westminster High School Band, and she’d just been on a mission trip that year with our church, [Grace Fellowship Chapel]. We try to bring that spirit she had to life.”

Besides the tea, there were salads on the table and a buffet of sandwiches, fruits and cheeses and vegetable platters, all prepared by Carroll County Career and Technology Center culinary arts students.

Kathy Cheatham said she has attended all five of the Rita’s Closet fashion show and tea.

“We have been friends with the family since before the triplets were born,” Cheatham said. “It’s a way for Rita to live on in a sense, and it gives back to the community, which was what Rita embodied. She was always wanting to help people, always rooting for the underdog, always rooting for that person. So being able to give dresses to those who are underprivileged or can’t afford one is something she would have wanted to do. And then, being able to give scholarships to those that need it but might not have a 4.0 average, that is something extra.”


Vendors like LuLaRoe, Jafra Cosmetics, LipSense, Color Street Nails, Earthly Treasures Jewelry, Dot Dot Smile, a Flash Away Photography and more were on hand for those who wanted to purchase accessories. There were door prizes and a balloon auction. The $10 tickets each had a number on them that corresponded to a basket filled with gift cards, services and products donated by local businesses.

“I wish I had known that every person who bought a balloon got something. I would have purchased a ticket,” said Linton. “Every basket was brimming with things inside!”

This was the first year that Rita’s triplet siblings, Emily and Alexander could not attend, but her older brother Justin was there, driving in from Leesburg, Virginia.

“It was really nice seeing how many people are still connected to her memory and still strive to contribute to that. It was crazy seeing how many people were at the event over the weekend,” Justin said. “As time goes on you might expect people to distance their selves from the past and Rita, but that is not what we saw.”

A short, memorized speech given by Alyson Ferguson also impressed Justin.

“That was really cool,” he said. “It was about everybody recognizing their own inner beauty and that matched what Rita stood for and what this event is about.”


Linton agreed.

“Alyson’s speech was so impressive that I went up and spoke to her afterward,” she said.

According to Medeiros, Ferguson was National American Miss 2017, Miss Maryland Preteen Cover Girl 2017 and the 2017 first runner-up for Miss Baltimore Outstanding Teen America.

“She did a wonderful job delivering an inspirational message to our audience of young ladies,” Medeiros said.

Rita’s Closet board member Leslie Marley and her husband modeled in the show.

“Rita and my son Jordan were in marching band together,” Marley said of her connection to the nonprofit. “If I can help spread Rita’s light in any way it is an honor for me to be able to do that. We see on the news so many negative things all the time and this is a positive thing that we can keep out in the world. It teaches younger kids that are coming up that good can come out of bad and that is an important message that they need to hear.”

According to Medeiros, the nonprofit offers four scholarships annually — two $500 scholarships for students of the Career and Technology Center, a $1,000 scholarship to a Winters Mill High School student, and a $1,000 scholarship to a graduating female at Westminster High School.

Those who need a free dress are recommended to Rita’s Closet by their high school counselors and an agency with special needs students, so they can provide dresses for them as well. Others may purchase gently used, affordable formalwear at Rita’s Closet’s dress shop, located next to Belk in the Town Mall of Westminster. They are open Thursday, Friday and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.

“I would be so heartbroken to think that a young lady wouldn’t go to her prom … because she couldn’t afford a dress,” Marley said. “It helps further our cause when a young lady comes and takes advantage of it, and that keeps Rita’s light illuminated.”

Cheatham said she thinks Rita would be very proud and excited about the number of people who volunteered and turned out for the fashion show and tea.


“But she would be most excited about the girls who will be getting dresses [free or] at a good price,” she added. “Rita would be proud that her mom and dad and brother and sisters are carrying on something that isn’t necessarily about her but is about something that she liked to do — help other people.”