“Deep-breathing exercises,” said sophomore Eliza Aiken, explaining what was keeping her and her fellow students behind the curtains calm and relaxed.
The 25 teens were preparing to walk the ramp for a charity fashion show on May 2 at the Jewish Community High School of the Bay. “Fashion with Compassion” was an entirely teen-produced event to raise money for Save a Child’s Heart, an Israel-based organization that provides pediatric heart surgeries in developing nations.
“This is entirely student-run,” said Rose-Ellen Lessy, a JCHS English teacher and the project’s faculty advisor. “Everything has been done by the students. My role has just been to give advice.”
This was the second time Fashion with Compassion was held at the school. Aiken’s older sister initiated the program last year when she was a senior (students at the school are required to do a big service project in their final year). But Aiken and co-organizer Lucy Moore aren’t seniors, so for them it’s a passion project.
“I just really wanted to continue,” said Aiken, 16. “I just thought it was an amazing thing for people our age to do.”
Fashion with Compassion was founded by students in Los Angeles in 2008 as a one-off school project, but is now an organization that helps students put on a charity fashion show at their own school, with mentorship and guidance.
It’s a lot of work. For the JCHS Fashion with Compassion, Aiken and Moore contacted local clothing and shoe retailers to borrow clothes (or, even better, have clothes donated) for the show. They also managed around 40 student volunteers (including the models), coordinated with the school to use the space, set up ticket sales, rented a catwalk, made sure credit cards could be processed, organized refreshments, made goodie bags and even contacted stores so there would be pop-up shops from brands like Superga sneakers, which donated 20 percent of sales to the event.
Those kinds of organizational skills are a big deal to students who have, so far, mostly been focused on taking care of their own responsibilities.
“I’ve been impressed that 16-year-olds can do this kind of work,” Lessy said.
And the JCHS community turned out to cheer them, with more than 100 people at the event.
“One great thing about JCHS is that students support each other,” said parent Debbie Findling, who came to the show just to watch.
It was a raucous and lively show, with students, parents and school staff applauding the various sportswear and evening gowns and giving cheers to both the shyest and most outgoing models on the catwalk.
“It’s great to see kids pursue their passion,” said head of school Rabbi Howard Ruben.
Moore and Aiken estimate they raised around $5,000 for Save a Child’s Heart through the evening’s ticket sales, shopping and raffles — even if some aspects of the event came together at the last minute. “I’m feeling relieved that it went as smoothly as it did,” Moore said.
Despite all the toil and anxiety, the two girls are already thinking about putting on another Fashion with Compassion show next year and how they can make it more professional.
“I think part of the challenge is actually getting people to sit down backstage and get ready,” Aiken said.