HOURS of elocution lessons as a little girl are being put to good use by a Coleraine woman now living in Las Vegas.
For Sheila Keast is doing her bit for American war veterans returning from the front by teaching them all about etiquette and good manners.
Sheila is a certified etiquette trainer and is offering her services free of charge to military personnel making the difficult transition from active duty to civilian life.
Many have had to rough it on the battlefields of Afghanistan and Iraq where survival and not behavioural refinements are the priority.
And the local woman is keen to instil her clients with proper manners which she says stems from elocution lessons taken by Mrs Liddell, her former teacher at Killowen Primary School.
Sheila, whose maiden name was Baxter, grew up in the Heights area of Coleraine. She attended Killowen PS and Coleraine Secondary School before moving to America more than 20 years ago.
Her parents were James and Susan Baxter and she has a sister, Ann and seven brothers, Harry, Clements, Bobby, Kenny, Mervyn, Tommy, and Noel.
“These men and women go off to war and come back and we often forget about them,” explained Sheila. “I just feel that they give so much, so I wanted to give something back.”
Inspired by a news story about war veterans, Sheila thought about how many bad habits they picked up during active service.
She decided to dovote a few days a month to help these brave men and women integrate successfully into civilian life again.
“These soldiers didn’t have time to sit down and eat properly. They usually had to eat quickly out of a container with their hands.”
To correct such unseemly behaviour Sheila’s course includes English and American eating styles, addressing everything from elbow placement to proper posture.
She also helps veterans to prepare for job interviews, advising them on proper dress and personal presentation.
“This programme has just started and I’m really excited about it.
“The main focus is helping returning veterans with interviewing and other social skills to help them move forward into the civilian workforce.
“I also have provided etiquette classes at Lomie Heard Elementary School, which is a military school on Nellis Air Force Base here in Las Vegas for over 170 children.”
Sheila believes that proper manners boost overall confidence and already she’s had a number of success stories.
As the saying goes you can take the girl out of Coleraine, but you can’t take the Coleraine out of the girl and Sheila treats her students the only way she knows best - with an afternoon tea party, complete with china cups and saucers which were reminiscent of her childhood days spent in the family home at Churchlands Road.
“Afternoon tea is not a mainstay of the typical American family, so when the children have completed a four week course in etiquette we finish with an afternoon tea party as a little treat.”
STORY: Nichola Forgrave