Four years ago, Heather Pearson of Heather Pearson Photography in Highland wanted to create a modeling group that would be more than just “pretty pictures.”
She started the #FLYGIRLS, which stands for, “First Love Yourself.”
Each year, Pearson takes nominations and selects a team of models ranging from freshmen to seniors in high school. Throughout the year-long program, the girls participate in charitable, fashion-themed events to help the community.
It was through these events that Pearson met Traci Reichmann, the founder of Leaps of love, a Highland-based non-profit that provides family retreats, social events, outings, workshops and more to provide support outlets for families experiencing childhood brain tumors and late effects of pediatric cancer.
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“Anything that we can do with the family as a whole and keep them connected we like to do,” Reichmann said of her charity.
Together, Reichmann and Pearson created Fashion for LOL, a fashion show where #FLYGIRLS, survivors of childhood cancer and their siblings can strut their stuff to raise money for the organization and to raise awareness for pediatric cancer.
“I think it’s much more powerful if they see the kids in action and the kids think it is the coolest thing ever too. It just was a good combination,” Reichmann said.
But before the show can begin, the models have to meet who they will share the runway with.
On a recent weekend, Pearson hosted a “Minute to Win it”-themed event to bring the two groups together. In the day of fun, the #FLYGIRLS met local childhood cancer survivors and their families.
“This is the one thing I think we look forward to the most each year,” Pearson said.
The ice was broken by a ping pong ball.
The group sat in a circle testing their memory as the participants bounced the ball to the person whose name was called out by Pearson and Reichmann. Giggles soon filled the air as silly mistakes were made and the models and children became better acquainted.
The models were then paired with their own survivor or sibling, and together they took on the challenging tasks that Pearson had planned.
Some cautiously scooped cotton balls into a bowl with a blindfold strapped around their face, while others shook their bodies as hard as they could to attempt to shake ping pong balls from a Kleenex box fanny pack. No matter the game, there was fun to be had on all sides.
This was #FLYGIRL Calli Engelmann’s second year taking on the fashion show. She said she always enjoys watching the kids burst out of their bubble, while also challenging herself not to be shy.
“I just really like being here, because we get to realize how lucky we really are and to never take anything for granted,” Engelmann said.
Another #FLYGIRL Lauren Riggs, who is in her third year with the program, said she enjoys participating because it shows her how she can have an impact on the life of someone else.
“It’s really beneficial for us as teenagers, because it shows us that we can help out with the kids at such a young age. It is a lot of fun for them. We enjoy it a lot,” Riggs said.
Eve Adcock, a local mother, watched the event with a smile and shining eyes.
Two years ago, Adcock’s son Xaivore lost his fight with brain cancer.
“You don’t expect it to be you,” Adcock said.
During his treatment, Adcock said that Leaps of Love was always there, and the organization helped her through the grieving process once his fight was over. To thank the organization, Adcock said her family remains active volunteers and they still participate in LOL programs.
This year, Adcock has three children who will walk in the fashion show, Abbi, William and Lilli. For them, and especially those still fighting, she said it gives them a chance to remember that they are kids.
“They actually have other kids they can relate to,” Adcock said.
This year’s show
Over the last four years, the fashion show has helped the organization raise about $12,000, according to Reichmann. But this year, Reichmann and Pearson hope some new additions will help to ramp up the proceeds by over 100 percent with a goal to raise $15,000.
The event is scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. on Aug. 11 at the Knights of Columbus Hall, located at 12545 Illinois 143 in Highland.
Other than the fashion show, the event will include a chance for attendees to win $3,500 in a draw down raffle. And for the first time the event will include entertainment from a live band. The band “Baywolfe” will play the event until midnight
This year, guests will also be able to see looks from two additional sponsors. In addition to Buckle, which has been the event’s sponsors since its inception, Glik’s of Highland and Frew’s Bridal and Formal Wear of Alton will also provide fashions the show. Buckle will also set up a pop-up shop for attendees.
“Which everyone loves,” Pearson said.
Reichmann said they would like to thank to the stores and other sponsors, as well as to everyone who has helped get the event off the ground and moving.
“This is a show that we couldn’t do without a lot of people that have been involved every single year,” Pearson said.
For those interested in buying tickets, they may contact either Pearson or Reichmann. Each of the #FLYGIRLs are also selling tickets. Tickets can also be bought online at the event’s app on MobileCause, or text the keyword fashion to 7177, and information about the show and how to buy tickets will be sent to you.
Again, 100 percent of the proceeds will go back to Leaps of Love and the families helped by the organization.
“It’s something very memorable, not only for our families but everyone else that comes out and gets involved,” Reichmann said.