Special Needs NKy awarded grant

Skyward and Center LogosThis blogging journey just took an exciting new turn! Thanks to the people at Skyward and the Center for Great Neighborhoods, I’ve received a grant to upgrade Special Needs Northern Kentucky. To top it off, the grant includes money for a community celebration to launch the improved blog.

The grant is part of the myNKY Nano Grant Program, which awards up to $250 each to projects that propose creative ways to strengthen communities.

While Special Needs Northern Kentucky has had steady traffic from readers connected to its stories, the grant money will pay for changes aimed at making the blog easier to find on the internet. I hope the upgraded blog will create a larger community around the stories of people, events and organizations working to improve the lives of individuals with special needs in Northern Kentucky.

Here’s a bit from my grant application:

“The special needs community is far-reaching and diverse. … My [upgraded] blog would create a web of understanding, connections and support. It would strengthen community by bringing information from around the region into one place. It would open possibilities and provide hope to families who may often feel isolated. It would create understanding in the wider community by bringing these stories to light.”

Well, that’s a tall order. But there seems to be some mysterious drive urging me on. I can explain it about as well as I can explain how to get this blog to show up on search engines. Even while applying for this grant, I felt it. I read over information about the application for weeks, maybe months, and then, as if a kind stranger came along to push my stalled car on a lonely road, I began to move. I wrote my application on deadline day.

I got the full grant amount, and I plan to begin posting on the upgraded Special Needs Northern Kentucky in September. I am not the least bit tech savvy, so I am giving myself plenty of time to make the changes.

As for the community celebration, I’ll update you when the details are finalized. The grant program requires recipients to include in their project a free, publicly accessible element. The grant is also tied to a geographic location — in my case, the Florence area, since that is where I work — so I plan to organize a fall gathering at a local park for families and others with ties to the special needs community.

I plan to organize a fall gathering at a local park for families and others with ties to the special needs community.

In the meantime, I want to thank readers for reading my posts, sharing them and leaving comments. I want to thank those who have signed up to follow the blog. My blog site tracks the number of visitors, and I admit that I check those stats often. (It’s all anonymous, though I can see what country visitors are in.) Your visits are the fuel that keeps me going.

I want to thank the people who’ve talked with me for interviews. Thanks for sharing your stories and trusting me to tell them. It’s an honor. Thank you for inspiring me with your spirit, enthusiasm and hard work.

And I want to thank the people at Skyward and the Center for Great Neighborhoods for the work you do to strengthen Northern Kentucky. Thank you for awarding grants that encourage creativity and build a sense of community. Thanks for helping me travel this road.





American Girl Fashion Show calls for models

The Aubrey Rose Foundation is looking for models to grace the runway in its Grand Finale of the American Girl Fashion Show.

Beginning Saturday, girls ages 4 to 13 are invited to “model calls” in Northern Kentucky and Cincinnati. The fashion show, begun in 2004, brings a love of American Girl dolls and fashions together with a passion for helping families of ill children.

The foundation got word in the spring that American Girl has decided to discontinue the fashion show after 2016, so the Grand Finale – to be held Dec. 2-4 – will be the last show in the Cincinnati area.

American GirlThe show usually hits the runway in April, as it did earlier this year at Music Hall in Cincinnati. Around that time, organizers got word from American Girl’s corporate office about the end of the shows, which are held across the country to raise funds for charities.

Even though they were just finishing up April’s show, the people at the Aubrey Rose Foundation got busy and made plans for a final show to be held at Northern Kentucky University’s BB&T Arena.

Organizers hope to go out in style. The fashion show is the foundation’s biggest fundraiser, bringing in more than $100,000 annually, said Nancy Hollenkamp, Aubrey Rose co-founder and executive director. “The bigger and better the show is, the more help we can give,” she said.

Money raised from the show goes to help families with severely ill children pay their medical bills. Aubrey Rose has given families more than $1 million in the past 14 years, according to its website. Its mission includes the entire family with efforts to lift them up emotionally as well as financially.

The fashion shows are a joyful way to help. Girls model American Girl fashions and carry American Girl dolls. They walk the runway, making their turns with big smiles and maybe a few nerves while announcers describe their clothing, cameras snap and the audience applauds.


My daughter modeled several years ago. As I sat in the audience and enjoyed my American Girl tea party, which is included with a ticket to the show, the scope and beauty of the project astounded me. Organizers efficiently moved hundreds of people in and out of the venue for seven shows over a weekend. I remember lots of flowers around the raised runway. The commentary was a mini-history lesson as girls modeled the historical outfits. And the models seemed full of pride and joy, especially at the end when they were called together onto the stage for a rose ceremony.

The event, though, is more than a weekend. It’s a four-month experience.

First come model calls. Here girls and their families learn about the Aubrey Rose Foundation and what modeling for the show involves. The girls get registered and are measured so that organizers can determine what outfits they will wear.

Model calls are meant to be a fun experience, Hollenkamp said. Each girl gets a passport to get stamped as she moves from station to station, completing activities. There’s a runway to walk, a selfie station, a posing station.

The main criteria for prospective models is that they be able to wear girls’ sizes 4 to 16. Because the fashion show is a fundraiser, models donate $100 to participate. The money is due by Sept. 25, and Aubrey Rose provides support if girls want to raise the funds. For their donation, each model gets $100 worth of raffle tickets that are entered into a drawing for an American Girl product.

Grand Finale model calls start Saturday at Tri-County Mall in Cincinnati in the former space of Men’s Wearhouse, near the mall entrance closest to Sears, and continue there on Sept. 17. Model calls at Newport on the Levee are slated for Aug. 27 and Sept. 10 in the former IMAX Theater space.

To register for a model call, you can click here and hover over the Models tab on the top, then click Model Login from the drop-down list to create an account or access one already established if your model was in a previous show. Here you can select a time and place for a model call. Last I checked, available times ranged from 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. depending on location.

Next on the list is Model Fits and Pics on Oct. 22 at Tri-County Mall. That’s when models try on their outfits and sit for a photo shoot with a professional photographer. Each model will receive a free 4×6-inch photo and the option to purchase a 10-pose photo CD for $50; the purchase includes all rights to use the photos however you like.

In October and November, models also will have the chance to learn from professionals how to rock the runway. Details for runway workshops are upcoming.

American Girl1Here’s the show schedule for the big weekend:

Friday, Dec. 2 — 6:30 p.m.

Saturday, Dec. 3 — 9:30 a.m., 1 p.m. and 4:30 p.m.

Sunday, Dec. 4 — 10:30 a.m., 2 p.m. and 5:30 p.m.

Models are assigned to shows based on outfits, sizes and availability. Show assignments will be announced on Oct. 3.

It’s a lot to take in. As a model mom years ago, it seemed a bit daunting at first. But each model has her own web page to keep track of activities, which I found very helpful. On the Aubrey Rose website, you can find answers to the most frequently asked questions.

If you can’t find the answer you need there, I’ve found the people at Aubrey Rose to be responsive, reassuring and helpful. My daughter has special needs, and the volunteers were great about making her experience – and mine – comfortable and fun.

In her honor

Nancy and Jerry Hollenkamp started their foundation in honor of their daughter Aubrey Rose, who died Nov. 10, 2000, two days before her third birthday. In her short life, Aubrey spent months and months in the hospital and required five major surgeries, including heart and double-lung transplants, to treat rare and complex medical issues that began when she was born six weeks early with two holes in her heart.

AubreyAubrey was the third child, the baby of the family. So when the Hollenkamps talk about helping to lift a family out of the complexities that occur when a child has a serious illness, they speak from deep, personal experience. Always, they say, Aubrey had a smile and happy spirit. The Hollenkamps want to share that spirit through their foundation.

To find out more about the foundation, its programs and Aubrey’s story, click here.

Here’s a link to information about applying for financial aid from the foundation.

 The last hurrah

Over the years, the fashion show has brought many rewards in addition to the money it has raised.

“The kids love why we do the fashion show. They embrace that,” Hollenkamp said. “And that’s the neatest thing to see the kids knowing that they are helping us help the (other) kids. They get it so much.”

Hollenkamp also has enjoyed seeing the models grow throughout the years. Some of the girls modeled for as many as six years and then became commentators at the show. “That has been just wonderful,” she said.

The news about the show’s end wasn’t easy to take. “It crushed me. When American Girl called me, it crushed me,” Hollenkamp said.

The American Girl Fashion Show began nationally in 1992 as a way to help nonprofit organizations use the popular American Girl brand to raise money for children’s charities while providing a memorable experience for participants, wrote Susan Jevens, associate manager of public relations with American Girl, in response to questions I emailed. Aubrey Rose has been a “valued partner for 13 years and has made a significant impact in helping families care for children with life threatening illnesses,” she said.

About 62 shows are held annually, and the concept has proven successful over the past two decades, Jevens said. However, she said, many host organizations have begun to have trouble meeting fundraising goals. In response, American Girl is exploring a fashion show format to be held at its retail locations to support local children’s hospitals.

“American Girl is proud of its long history of giving back to communities and pleased to continue offering an updated version of the program to help children in need,” Jevens said.

Hollenkamp remains hopeful that her organization will find other means of supporting its mission. “When one door closes, another door opens,” she said. “I can’t wait for you to see what’s in store next.”

To the parents and models, Hollenkamp says thanks for the support all these years. “We’ll miss seeing them every year,” she said, “but we’re hoping that whatever we come up with next that they can embrace us again.”


For other ways to support the Aubrey Rose Foundation, visit its website at www.aubreyrose.org. There you’ll find information about the following:
  • Fireworks Spectacular on Sept. 4 aboard the Belle of Cincinnati for the Western & Southern/WEBN Fireworks Presented by Cincinnati Bell.
  • Let’s Dance for the Heart of It! Gala on Nov. 11 at the Hilton Cincinnati Netherland Plaza.
  • Above and Beyond Doctor of the Year Award, which is seeking nominations until Sept. 16 for top doctors from Kentucky, Indiana and Ohio who specialize in treating children with an emphasis on heart, lungs or general pediatrics.
  • Writerly Sew, which embroiders shirts and apparel for businesses and organizations and gives all proceeds to ARF.



Videos help tell the story of day camp, The Royal Prom

As I’ve said before, the people at Northern Kentucky Capernaum know how to do fun. They also know how to do video. Justin Newman put together this fabulous and inspiring Day Camp video that gives viewers an idea of the activities and energy at the Newman Farm in Union last week.

This year’s camp — held July 25-29 — was the biggest in the event’s four years, said Brian Kremer, area director of Northern Kentucky Capernaum. More than 60 campers with disabilities middle-school age and older attended Monday through Thursday. Counting staff and volunteers, nearly 150 people came together each day to share faith and sing, dance and play.

Friday night’s banquet and talent show attracted 280 people, Kremer said. Campers and their families and friends ate burgers, hot dogs and sides at long tables set inside the airy barn. After dinner, campers took the stage for a talent show, entertaining the crowd with singing, dancing and jokes.

Yes, camp is over but the fun continues. The next big event for Capernaum is The Royal Prom, a spectacle of a night with dinner and dancing for people aged 14 and up with disabilities. It’s scheduled for September 23 at Crossroads church in Florence.

At The Royal Prom’s website, visitors can watch another great video — a gorgeous account of last year’s prom. If you need something to remind you of the goodness and joy in this world, this video might be just the thing. (I usually need a tissue for this one.) Also on the site, visitors can sign up to attend the prom or to volunteer for it.

Capernaum is a nondenominational Christian ministry that serves teens and young adults with disabilities. I wrote a previous post about the group’s plans for day camp. I plan to write more about The Royal Prom in the coming weeks. In the meantime, if you’re interested in The Royal Prom, check out the website and video. You might want to have a box of tissues handy.

Photo provided by Northern Kentucky Capernaum