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Local News

Easterseals Joliet Region hosting its final American Girl fashion shows this weekend

Tickets still available for two shows

Claire Melby dresses as Rebecca during the American Girl Fashion Show dress rehearsal Wednesday in the Victorian Ballroom at the Jacob Henry Mansion.
Claire Melby dresses as Rebecca during the American Girl Fashion Show dress rehearsal Wednesday in the Victorian Ballroom at the Jacob Henry Mansion.

JOLIET – Goodbye, American Girl Fashion Show.

For 19 years, Easterseals Joliet Region has brought this showcase of historical and contemporary children’s fashion to the community and raised more than $250,000 to benefit kids with disabilities.

But after almost two decades of offering the fashion show as a fundraising event, American Girl has decided to streamline the show and hold it only at American Girl retail locations to support its partner children’s hospitals, said Deb Strahanoski, development manager at Easterseals.

“It’s an event that’s going to be missed,” Strahanoski said.

Through the years, it’s been everything from a nice afternoon out for grandmothers and granddaughters to the setting for birthday parties, Strahanoski said. This year’s event has produced the most ticket sales since the recession, Strahanoski said. One show – 4 p.m. Saturday – is sold out.

“We’re well over 700 tickets [total] sold,” Strahanoski said.

Strahanoski said she “already has her thinking cap on” to devise ways – maybe another event or more generous donors – to compensate for the loss of the $15,000 to $20,000 each American Girl Fashion Show generates for Easterseals after expenses.

“I will have to find it somewhere. It’s not something we can let go,” Strahanoski said. “We need those funds to continue our programming for children, and we develop more and more programming every year.”

For instance, Easterseals’ Autism Diagnostic Clinic is very popular, Strahanoski said. It has a full staff, which includes a pediatrician able to evaluate children from birth to high school on a full range of disorders on the autism spectrum.

Easterseals began its fiscal year in September, so Strahanoski has time to develop ideas.

“We have to really explore and see what will be the best fit for us,” she said.

In the meantime, the show must go on.

Origins and beyond

Kristi Mulvey, executive director of resource development at Joliet Junior College, first brought the American Girl Fashion Show to Joliet. Mulvey worked in Easterseals’ development office at the time, Strahanoski said.

Since then, the number of dolls American Girl produces has increased dramatically, which also expanded the types and amount of fashion to be modeled. Teresa Summers, development associate at Easterseals Joliet Region, said she “wears many hats” for the fashion show, including heading up decorations and planning seating charts.

However, Summers’ main role is model coordinator. This year’s show requires 81 models from the Joliet area who can wear size 6 and size 10 outfits, and Summers ensures she has enough girls.

“I assign all the models to their outfits,” Summers said, “and then my responsibility that day is to get the models dressed, get their hair done and get them lined up.”

The fashion show has two parts, so during intermission the models change clothes, Summers said. Some of them have to change quicker than others, she added.

“There’s a lot of changing of hair ribbons and bows to match their outfits. It gets hectic back there,” Summers said. “But, for the most part, we’re a well-oiled machine. We have a lot of volunteers.”

Some of those volunteers are former models, such as Summers’ daughter – Lily Summers, 15, of Plainfield. Lily first began modeling when she was 2 (“She did Bitty Baby,” Teresa said) and has since portrayed many of the dolls, including Rebecca, Kaya, Addie and Molly.

“I grew up playing with the dolls,” Lily said. “Helping out is like a trip down memory lane for me.”

Since she stopped modeling, Lily has volunteered backstage. Last year, she was one of the show’s emcees, a role she will reprise this year. Lily said when she looks at the little girls’ faces, she realizes they’re just like her – they enjoy the dolls as much as she enjoyed them.

Mostly, Lily enjoyed sharing the experience with her mother, and she will miss that.

“I grew up with two brothers and going to a lot of their sports,” Lily said. “This was something our mom and I could sneak off by ourselves.”


WHAT: American Girl Fashion Show

WHEN: 11 a.m. Nov. 19 and 4 p.m. Nov. 20

WHERE: The Jacob Henry Mansion Estate, Victorian Ballroom, 15 S. Richards St., Joliet

TICKETS: $40 a person (adults and children). Includes a hot, plated meal, American Girl gift bag for children, program book for adults and door prizes.

KNOW MORE: To order tickets or for information, call 815-730-2052.

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