TORONTO — More than 500 people recently came out to support students with special needs at the eighth annual Zareinu Fashion Show.
The event, held on Nov. 16 at On the Park, raised awareness and about $300,000 for the school and treatment centre. Zareinu provides individualized therapies and education to children with physical and developmental challenges, including cerebral palsy, Down syndrome and autism spectrum disorder.
“The majority of our students are unable to afford the full cost of tuition, and some of the money raised from this event will help cover the difference. The board of Zareinu will never turn away a Jewish child with special needs. It’s an incredible place,” said Stacy Markin, event co-chair alongside Renee Rosenzweig and Esti Cohen.
Marla Ingles, vice-president of fundraising at Zareinu, said the fashion show is critical “because it gives Zareinu an opportunity to outreach to a greater audience of people each year. It appeals to our staunchest supporters, to the community of people who love a great event for a fantastic cause, and to those who just love fashion.”
Hosted by fashion journalist, author and designer Jeanne Beker, this year’s show featured models, Zareinu students and their family members and students from other Toronto schools who walked the runway in clothes from Danier, Shenkin West, Divine Decadence, EDIT, Seventy, Lil Vogue, Matooka, Devilish Angels and Jaytex by Ben Sherman.
The evening celebrated Zareinu’s students by highlighting their abilities. Various speakers stressed the need to embrace differences in our community and to remember that disabilities do not define children.
This year, the Zareinu students graced the stage hand in hand with children from other schools. “It’s so emotional for the entire audience to see this sight of inclusion and participating together. It’s a feeling that sends chills through you and your eyes well with tears of joy. The message is happy, not one of sadness,” said Markin.
“Once again, Zareinu students really touched the audience with their incredible bravery and drive. The audience really resonated with the students sharing their passions. These kids are like any other – they have goals, dreams, skills and ambitions, and Zareinu is key in ensuring they live up to their potential.”
The parents of the Zareinu students beamed as they watched their children on stage. “These are moments that parents never would have thought possible,” said Markin, whose 16-year-old daughter, Shayna, has participated in the event for the past seven years with the help of her brother and sister.
Markin said she was initially told that Shayna would never be able to walk. At each show, Shayna “has done her job and walked down that 80-foot runway as I literally held my breath and cried tears of joy. If I can speak for the other participating children’s parents, we are in a place where parents of normally developing children cannot even imagine. When these kids parade in the stunning clothes, however they can get down the runway, there is not a mother in the room who cannot feel how special this truly is.”
Markin said Zareinu “is changing lives for the better. Through generous donations, we are helping so many vulnerable Jewish families who so humbly appreciate that their great needs are being met. Having a child with special needs creates a tremendous financial and emotional burden on the whole family. The Zareinu Fashion Show helps lessen the burden.”
While there are many worthy charities to support, she said, it is important to “help children who cannot speak for themselves, but deserve a chance to reach their full potential.”
To date, the Zareinu Fashion Show has raised more than $1.8 million to support the organization and its programs.