Gold Medal Fashion Show benefits special needs recreation
They're not just modeling the latest fashions -- they're helping to raise funds for special recreation services.
The 29th Annual Gold Medal Fashion Show, set for Sunday, Feb. 24, in Rolling Meadows, will showcase kids and young adult "people of all abilities" as models.
The event, which includes lunch and raffles, will benefit Northwest Special Recreation Association, according to Superintendent Nanette Sowa of Wheeling, who also supervises the fundraising arm of the organization, Special Leisure Services Foundation.
The fashion show will help fund five focus areas: transportation, scholarships, athletics, programs and inclusion at local park districts.
The show has drawn upward of 700 attendees in the past and is a yearlong endeavor for those who commit to advancing the sometimes-challenging event, according to Sowa.
"We have a large committee and they need to get sponsors. We need to make sure we're in a facility that can house us," she said. "This year we have 81 raffle baskets and five grand prizes. The committee and the parents all help. If you're involved in this, you help to make it successful: committee members, parents, family members, and SLSF staff."
The show has become a well-oiled machine over the 29 years it has been produced. But the first year was an entirely different story, according to Lori Anderson of Arlington Heights, who has been on the committee since its inception.
"I went to all the fittings; I picked up the clothes from all the stores," Anderson said, recalling the first year's challenges. "I had to hang them from poles in my living room, put them in order, write something about each outfit and child, and get the clothes to the fashion show in my van and then take them all to the stores the next day and hope everything was returned."
Now that many hands have made lighter work, the event has all the tasks covered, she said.
"Now we have a wonderful committee, where everyone just does everything," Anderson said. "Collaboration is a wonderful thing."
Of course, the stars of the show are the models. In fact, this year's theme reflects that idea.
"This year's theme is 'Showcasing Our Stars,'" Sowa said. "Our big draw is our participant models."
The task of modeling not only gives the participants a taste of celebrity, it debunks what some mistakenly think about those with special needs.
"So many people feel sorry for the NWSRA participants ... but, at this, they're the main event and they look beautiful and they look and are treated like Hollywood stars. We think they are stars," said Sowa.
"I thought how fun it would be to showcase our kids, because years ago people had an image of what children with disabilities were like and I wanted to show our children have a lot to offer," Anderson added.
"I wanted to get the awareness that they are just like we are, they just struggle a bit more with some things."
Anderson, who is working her last show before moving from the area, will miss watching the transformation that takes place in the participants.
"You take someone who walks around with a scowl on her face and she's always looking down," Anderson said. "Then she gets her hair and makeup done and she's in a beautiful outfit. She's even grumpy as she's walking up the steps. As soon as she hits that stage, it's like a light bulb gets turned on and she is smiling, waving, throwing kisses. Instantly."
Anderson expresses gratitude to the committee, the modeling participants and the event's many local sponsors, including JCPenney of Woodfield Mall, Formally Modern Tuxedos of Schaumburg, and Dressbarn of Hoffman Estates, who dress the models; and Forbici Salon and Spa in Arlington Heights, which contributes hair and makeup; as well as to audience members for their years of support.
"We owe this to the audience that has been so supportive and comes every year and then brings friends and family. It's them. They're the ones that clap for our kids. They're the ones that make them feel wonderful. They're the ones that are always there for us every year," Anderson said.
"They come to be part of the celebration of how well our kids and our young adults have done."
"Usually it's horrible, disgusting weather outside," Sowa said. "Dark dreary February Sunday, but you go in that room and it's joy."
• Editor's note: Daily Herald Media Group is one of the sponsors of the Gold Medal Fashion Show.
The 29th Annual Gold Medal Fashion ShowWhat: Benefits the Special Leisure Services Foundation
When: 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 24
Where: The Meadows Club, 2950 Golf Road, Rolling Meadows
Tickets: $50 per person, which includes lunch, entertainment and access to raffles. Register at www.eventbrite.com or contact Megan O'Brien at (847) 392-2848, ext. 267, or firstname.lastname@example.org.