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Tuesday, July 22, 2014

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Kids at heart of Zareinu fashion fundraiser

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Kids model latest fashions at last year’s Zareinu fashion fundraiser.

TORONTO — Zareinu is gearing up for its annual fashion show, raising money for the school and treatment centre for children with physical and developmental challenges.

Now in its ninth year, the fundraiser draws fashion enthusiasts and designers alike, bringing the latest fashion to its audience.

This year, international fashion house Escada will be featured at the Nov. 20 event, with one show dedicated specifically to this designer.

“We’re very excited that they’ve recognized us and decided to partner with Zareinu,” said Stacy Markin, event co-chair. “It gives us tremendous credibility that an organization that is so well-known and international has recognized Zareinu and decided to showcase their 2013 collection [at the show.]”

She called this event the first time Escada has done a show for the layperson. “This is something people in the fashion industry and celebrities would normally see.”

Additionally, it’s the first time this new “resort collection” will be shown on a runway in Canada, said Jeanne Beker, Canadian fashion reporter and host of the fashion show.

Renee Rosenzweig, another co-chair for the show, along with Esti Cohen, said the show is incredibly successful because people like to associate themselves with glamour, which they are sure to find at this event. However, the goal – apart from raising money – is to open dialogue about special needs.

“Special needs is sort of hush-hush, and it would bring an openness to the cause,” Rosenzweig said. “By putting on a calibre show like this, we’re bringing special-needs kids out and people will be willing to talk more about it.”

The night will feature two shows: one with professional models in adult fashion, such as Escada, and another has children taking their turns down the runway, wearing fashions from brands like Gap and Baby Gap.

Markin said the children’s fashion show is particularly special.

“They get down the runway by walking or rolling,” she said. “However, they get down the runway, it’s an awesome sight to see. There’s not a dry eye in the house.”

Many of the children are growing up with physical disabilities that, without Zareinu’s help, could mean a life without walking. That’s what makes this show so special and unique, Markin said.

“These are kids who the parents never thought would be walking down the runway in a fashion show,” she said.

Markin’s own daughter is one of these children. Doctors told the family she would never be able walk or develop fine motor skills. Now she can walk, and Markin credits Zareinu for improving her daughter’s life.

Beker said she decided to get involved with the show after a visit to Zareinu and a first-hand look at the work it does.

“I went to the school and was totally blown away by the level of compassion and caring, and the tiny miracles that you see unfolding on a constant basis,” she said. “It was just the most magical, wonderful, inspiring place. It honestly kind of changed me.”

Markin recalled one year when a boy was walking with his two siblings and he fell. One was helping him move his walker down the runway, but ended up going a bit too fast, and the child fell flat on the floor. Therapists jumped up, ready to help him, and he continued walking, determined to finish his mission.

“The entire audience stood to the standing ovation until the child continued all the way down and all the way back,” she said.

Rosenzweig said kids tend to fall a lot at the beginning, and it can be quite scary for onlookers. “If he falls, the pound is like earth-shattering,” she said. “You feel like he hurt himself, but he was so happy.”

It’s these kinds of stories that keep Zareinu’s fashion show alive, Markin said. “They never focus on what the children can’t do. They just focus on the strengths and what the children can do,” she said.

The money raised at the event will go to Zareinu, helping the school subsidize fees for families in need.

“It is a very expensive school,” Markin said, explaining it combines Jewish day school with therapy, which means many families need subsidies to be able to afford to send their children. “But the family is saving a ton of money by going to Zareinu rather than seeking private therapy separately.”

The school is working on ramping up its technology through providing state-of-the-art equipment, Markin said. This year, for example, Zareinu’s administration brought iPads into the school for therapeutic use. Infants are using them to develop their fine motor skills at an early age.

Markin said ideally, she hopes this year’s fundraiser will bring in $500,000. But she continues to set her eyes on increasingly larger goals.

“Perhaps one day, maybe in our 10th year, we’ll see it as a million-dollar event,” she said.

Beker called it a very well-produced fashion show that is a huge spectacle. But in the end, it’s the children who keep her and audiences coming back year after year.

“It’s ultimately about these gorgeous kids who are trying to make their way in the world and it’s hugely inspiring,” she said. “When you visit Zareinu, witnessing the magic and the compassion and caring… That’s what keeps you coming back, when you know there’s a place with such heart.”

To find out more about the fashion show, and to buy tickets, please visit www.zareinu.org/events

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