NORMAL — Full of confidence and wearing a sparkling dress, Theresa Benckendorf of Streator was preparing for her walk down the runway in Sunday’s “Choose to Shine” Down Syndrome Fashion Show in the Prairie Room at the Bone Student Center at Illinois State University in Normal.
“I feel beautiful,” she said, showing off a colorful bouquet of flowers.
Theresa was one of about 35 models in Sunday’s show, featuring area residents with Down syndrome.
“The purpose of this is to give them the opportunity to feel beautiful because we know they are,” said Kim Adelman, an instructor with the Department of Communications Sciences and Disorders at ISU.
The show was the third annual event organized by students in the department as a fundraiser, but also to bring awareness about Down syndrome, Adelman said.
Down syndrome is a genetic disorder caused by the presence of all or part of a third copy of chromosome 21. It is typically associated with physical growth delays, characteristic facial features and mild to moderate intellectual disability. There is no cure, but education and proper care have been shown to improve quality of life.
About 200 people attended the show. A final estimate on funds raised was not available Sunday, but Adelman said last year the event raised about $2,800. All money raised went to the Central Illinois Down Syndrome Organization.
“A lot of the clients that come to the ISU Speech and Hearing Clinic told us they would love to be actors or models,” she said. “This gives them a chance to do something like that.”
Kristin Crumrine of Bloomington likes dressing up and having everyone cheering for her.
“I like walking the stage and seeing the audience, and waving to them,” she said.
Not only do the students enjoy it, but so do the organizers, said Katie McGrail, a junior at ISU from Plainfield, majoring in Communications Sciences and Disorders.
“I enjoy seeing them go out there and get the opportunity to have a blast and let their true personalities shine,” she said. “When you see their smile on stage, it will brighten up anyone’s day.”
Some of the outfits that were worn were donated while others wore clothes of their own or borrowed from someone.
“This is a fantastic event,” said Deana Wisner of Bloomington, who had a nephew in the show. “It’s not only a feel-good show for the models, but it’s a feel-good show for the audience too because they are so unpredictable and it’s awesome when they try to imitate the models they see on television. Everyone has a great time.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately one in every 700 babies in the United States is born with Down syndrome, making Down syndrome the most common chromosomal condition. About 6,000 babies with Down syndrome are born in the United States each year.