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Partners in Learning fashion show gives special-needs children a chance in the spotlight

SALISBURY — Being a first-time model didn’t deter Partners in Learning students as they twirled and sashayed down the catwalk Saturday at the Country Club of Salisbury.

Ranging in age from infant to nearly 16, the children got a chance to strut their stuff in a show that celebrated their lives and differences.

It was a new venture for Partners in Learning, said Executive Director Norma Honeycutt. And not just because it’s the first fashion show the nonprofit agency has held but also because all the children participating have special needs.

“It’s a way to make the children and the families feel special,” Honeycutt said. “Because so often they are left out of the mainstream.”

The child-care facility is unique in Rowan County for its focus on serving children with special needs and children in poverty. The organization’s charter requires that one-third of its students be special-needs kids and another third be children whose families might not be able to afford day care or after-school care.

“So here we are 21 years later,” board Chairwoman Lynn Boulter said.

Saturday’s fashion show was also the first day of the organization’s capital campaign, which supports tuition scholarships for Partners in Learning students from families with financial struggles. The campaign’s goal is $50,000. Saturday’s fashion show brought in $7,000, surpassing the $5,000 goal.

The fashion show was also in honor of Jacob Usher, a former Partners in Learning student who passed away. Jacob was born with Down syndrome and a congenital heart defect. He had four open heart surgeries by the time he was 4 years old. His mother, Linda Usher, said Jacob was a happy, loving child who loved to dress up.

“He had a smile that would steal your heart,” she said.

But the show turned out to be special in more ways than one. Usher decided to sponsor one of the models, purchasing an outfit from Old Navy. At the time, she knew it was for a young boy who was about the same age and size as her Jacob. In a moment of inspiration, Usher decided to finish the outfit off with one of Jacob’s old ties and hats.

It wasn’t until later that she learned the model’s name was also Jacob.

“It was just meant to be,” she said.

Jacob Tafoya is 5 years old and has VATER association, a collection of abnormalities that may affect the vertebrae, trachea, esophagus or kidneys. Mom Kimberly Tafoya said she was touched when she learned about Usher’s donation.

“She felt like it was her son Jacob (in heaven) looking down on him,” she said of Linda Usher.

In addition to being the mother of a Partners in Learning student, Tafoya works at the facility. She said she was initially surprised by the idea of a fashion show because it was so unusual. But she quickly warmed up to the idea.

“I think it’s just amazing,” she said. “…They’re wanting to spread the awareness that everyone has a different need.”

And students’ differences were celebrated at the show. As each walked down the catwalk hand-in-hand with a parent, show host Joy Whidden talked about their likes and dislikes and gave a rundown of their different needs.

“It’s a wonderful way to let these children’s light shine,” Usher said.

According to Honeycutt, Partners in Learning’s theme for the year is “building futures together” with love, faith and hope.

“And doesn’t this fashion show represent our love for the children and their families and faith and hope in the future?” she said.

Student models, with accompanying parents, included: Elsie and Stephanie Petrea, Trent Edwards and Yolanda Edwards, Ayden Ashley and Nate Harris, Gabe and Candy Andruizzi, Noah and Kaitlyn Krotchko, Gracie and Lisa Mesimer, Kiki and Ashley Deaton, Joni and Tiffany Kennedy, and Jackson and Melissa Bullock.

Outfits were provided by several local businesses, including Curiosity Gifts, Old Navy, Bella Jayde, Tilley Harley Davidson, Lorra Belle Baby, 3 Jems, LLR by Kristie, LLR by Lacy, Lolly Wolly Doodle, Encore on Main and Queens. Great Clips provided hairdressers.

Contact reporter Rebecca Rider at 704-797-4264. 


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