New Beginnings hosts second annual benefit fashion show in Sheridan

By Mike Taylor • Last Updated 11:38 am on Monday, April 22, 2013

Models Laila Nielsen, Claire Akin, Torie Snider, Petra Mark, Hannah Burtch and Abby Deacons show off New Beginnings’ line of fuchsia outfits for spring. — Daily News/Mike Taylor

SHERIDAN — After the success of last year’s inaugural New Beginnings Fashion Show in Sheridan, it was a given that organizers would provide an encore performance.

They weren’t disappointed by the turnout Saturday at Central Montcalm Community Church. Seating for the show, held to raise funding for the New Beginnings Upscale Resale Shop in Sheridan, was sold out well in advance of the actual event.

According to New Beginnings board member and show organizer Michelle Rockafellow, the money raised will go toward paying the salary of one of the store’s job coaches. New Beginnings employs special needs staffers, who learn valuable work skills from the coaches, while experiencing a real work environment.

Twin sisters Katlin and Kelsee Hart model summer skirts from New Beginnings during the store’s fashion show Saturday afternoon in Sheridan. — Daily News/Mike Taylor

This year’s show featured a silent auction, raffles and a 30-foot long dessert bar. But it was the fashion show itself that generated the real excitement.

“It’s a really fun event,” Rockafellow. “We have models ranging from 5 to 60. Most of the board members are teachers or retired principals and they know a lot of students. We find the clothes then match the size to the model. It’s a real process; it takes about a year to organize.”

Since this is the second year for the show, Rockafellow chose the theme “Seeing Double” for the event. The show featured two sets of twins modeling fashions from the store, along with 24 additional models displaying a total of 81 different outfits.

Though the show was a great time for all, New Beginning’s mission is a serious matter. According to program director Tammy Deacons, it provides a resource for special needs individuals found nowhere else in Montcalm County.

Deacons was instrumental in setting up New Beginnings about five years ago when she realized her daughter — a special needs student herself — would have very few options after leaving school.

“I am a special ed teacher … and we’ve lived in the county for 20 years,” Deacons said. “In Michigan, once you reach the age of 26, sometimes earlier, you’re out of school and our county really has nothing for these young people to do once they’re out of school.

“That’s what drove me to find something for them to do.”

Deacons researched several possible alternatives before deciding on the resale shop, in large part because it was one of the least expensive endeavors available. In short order, New Beginnings was established and providing opportunities to several area special needs students.

In addition to giving young people a chance to learn marketable retail skills, job coaches also help them set up micro-businesses — another step toward self-sufficiency.

“They’ve done things like make and sell candy bars wrapped up to look like snowmen,” Deacons said. “They’ve painted bricks to look like ducks and bunny rabbits; they’re absolutely darling.”

Fire-starters, baskets, bath towels and homemade greeting cards also are among the micro-business projects New Beginnings coaches have helped develop.

“It can really be almost anything,” Deacons said.

In the past five years, the store has helped mentor about 25 young people, a number Deacons and Rockafellow both are proud of. In addition to the fashion show, the store also hosts an annual Christmas Bazaar, 5k run and “girls night out” to raise additional funding for the program.

Last year’s fashion show brought in around $5,000. Though receipts had yet to be tallied as of press time, Rockafellow said she was hopeful that goal would be exceeded this year.

Michelle Rockafellow performs a quick interview of baseball model Laine Nielsen, while Laine’s father, Alex Neilsen, looks on during New Beginnings Fashion Show Saturday afternoon in Sheridan. — Daily News/Mike Taylor

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