Zareinu ‘Sunshine & Lollipops’ Fashion Show

The Jewish Tribune – December 4, 2008


Shlomit Kriger

TORONTO – The unique abilities and boundless potential of children with special needs shone at the 2008 Zareinu  ‘Sunshine & Lollipops’ fashion show, which took place recently.

Monies raised go towards the Zareinu Educational Centre of Metropolitan Toronto, a world-renowned treatment centre and school that provides special education and individualized therapies to children with a wide range of physical and developmental challenges, from birth to age 21.

Hosted by author and National Post columnist Linda Frum, the event comprised professional models wearing attire from spring 2009 lines of Ports 1961, Hugo Nicholson, Zero 20 Bambini, and Ines di Santo. Some Zareinu students and other children from the community also joined them on the runway.

Seven families with children with special needs shared their inspirational stories, connecting the themes of their narratives to the unique qualities of the colours of the rainbow.

“The saying ‘it takes a village to raise a child’ could not be more true,” said event co-chair Stacy Markin, whose 13-year-old daughter, Shayna, has been a Zareinu student since she was eight months old.

Shayna has achieved many goals that neurologists and other doctors had initially told her parents wouldn’t happen. She is very aware of her surroundings, communicates by gesturing and using a device, and also walks, runs and climbs. She even skis with the Special Olympics.

“In 13 years, I’d never heard anyone at Zareinu tell me negative things or focus on what Shayna cannot do,” added Markin. “Zareinu believes in each child and treats him or her with dignity, respect, and acceptance, all the while supporting the family.”

Statistics indicate that one in five children has special needs. While 455 children in the local community need Zareinu’s services, there is currently only room for 70.

“Developmental delays, learning challenges, and special needs are issues that touch men and women equally and know no boundaries,” said event co-chair Renee Rosenzweig. “I recognize the universal nature of this cause and respect that every child and every person is special and exceptional.

“The children at Zareinu, in so many ways, represent all of us. We all struggle with challenges – some more demanding than others – and can all learn from their example.”

The annual cost of full-time therapy and special education per child is about $40,000, although no child is turned away from Zareinu due to a family’s inability to meet tuition requirements.

Shalom Brothman, 19, who has been a Zareinu student since he was six years old, shared how he has grown thanks to the centre.

“Zareinu helped me through so much in life and taught me how to control my temper and to speak,” he said. “I used to feel like I would never fit in and that people thought I was crazy because of the way I acted, but I don’t feel that way anymore.”

Brothman now attends Zareinu’s Boys High School at the Bathurst Jewish Community Centre, where he enjoys diverse classes, including Chumash, math, swimming, gym, and art.

“I’m happy to say that everything is great in my life,” he added.

Marlene Benlolo, mother of Zareinu student Rachel, is amazed at the progress that her daughter has made.

“Doctors told us that Rachel wouldn’t walk or communicate or bond with us,” she said. “Now she’s almost walking, cuddling, and loving us back the way we could have never imagined and that’s all because of Zareinu.”

Benlolo explained that the colour violet represents her daughter because it’s “spiritual and magical.

“Rachel has taught all of us many lessons in life and made us more spiritually aware.”

Myriam Michelow-Duarte chose green to represent the love and hope exuded by her son Alexander.

“I will never forget his first steps,” she recalled. “We didn’t know when he would walk and had to wait until after he was two years old.

“It was an incredible moment, and we knew then that his potential was enormous. You should never limit your child.”

Her hope for Alexander’s future is an accepting society in which he can participate and give back.

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