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 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.



At New Perceptions doors open to the arts

When you walk through the doorway of Room 227 at New Perceptions in Edgewood, you step into a world of possibilities.

Paintings, sketches, sculptures and other works of art line shelves, sit on tables and are propped along walls. Canvases, clay, wire and art supplies of every kind fill cabinets, drawers and other shelves. It’s a colorful, inspiring room, busy but not cluttered.

This is the home of Art Abilities – where imagination reigns and creative magic happens.

On a recent Tuesday morning, Erick Winburn dipped a brush into pale blue and green paints. He leaned over a sculpture and dabbed the paint onto clay that he and his buddy and fellow artist Billy Bach had pinched and placed to represent water. Driftwood and rocks Winburn had collected sat amid the clay water. Perched on the driftwood was a fisherman he had fashioned out of wire and spray painted.

Finding ways to use diverse materials is one of the reasons Winburn likes the Art Abilities program. “It challenges me,” he said. The wire can be hard to work with, but “it’s worth it in the end.”

His inspiration? “I like to fish, myself, and I just thought it’d look cool to make.”

The 16 artists who work here, all adults with developmental disabilities, are a busy bunch. They paint, sculpt and sketch for the world outside their doorway.

“We have lots of hands going,” instructor Peg Kendall said while showing me around the studio. “We always have the mind-set to have pieces in the community.”

Eric Winburn_Art Abilities
Erick Winburn’s fondness for fishing inspired the work-in-progress he sits beside in the Art Abilities classroom at New Perceptions.

Winburn’s sculpture, for instance, will be on display at the New Perceptions Annual Dinner on Aug. 23 at Receptions in Erlanger. Each artist “has a goal to be in the community themselves,” Kendall said, “so having their work in the community is an extension of that.”

Kendall’s enthusiasm for her students is apparent as she talks about them and their work. “They are the most motivated and creative people,” she said. The program doesn’t follow a curriculum. Instead the artists decide what they’re going to learn. “It comes from the heart,” Kendall said, “and it comes from them.”

With pride Kendall ticks off the community events the artists are preparing for. For the annual dinner, Kendall plans to display 25 to 30 pieces, enough to represent as many of the artists as possible. Currently eight pieces from the studio are entered in a show at Art Beyond Boundaries, a gallery on Main Street in Cincinnati that showcases and sells the works of local and regional artists with disabilities. On Aug. 5, that show will end and a new show will begin with, Kendall hopes, seven or eight pieces from her studio.

“They are the most motivated and creative people.”

The artists also will show their works at Art in the Park in Bellevue on Sept. 10. At Art on the Levee in Newport, visitors can find wire sculptures, similar to Winburn’s fisherman, for sale throughout the year.

Wire sculpture is a favorite among the artists, Kendall said. The studio started producing the sculptures about five years ago after researching and finding that no one else in the area was creating them, she said. The sculptures require fencing wire, rebar wire or “whatever we can lay our hands on.”

The artists, sometimes collaborating on the same sculpture, twist the wire into figures – a wire ball for the head and wire columns for the trunk, arms and legs – and then give them a job to do. Three wire figures, for example, appear to be rappelling on the wall outside the Art Abilities door.

pottery wheel
Tim Adams creates a piece at the pottery wheel.

In addition to paintings and sketches, program participants also work on tile mosaics, ceramics and engravings in glass and wood. Thanks to a recent grant from the Elsa Heisel Sule Foundation, the studio has added a pottery wheel and airbrushing equipment.

“We very much try to cater to their interests, even if it’s Pittsburgh Steelers junk,” Kendall said loud enough to get a reaction from Winburn and Bach, both fans of that other football team from that other city.

It’s all good-natured ribbing. A sense of camaraderie spreads easily through the room like paint on canvas.

“I love it,” Bach said when asked his opinion of the art program. He enjoys being in the studio, making friends and “being around that woman right there,” he said, pointing to Kendall.

Billy Bach recently finished this canvas painting. His next project will be a painting of Batman.

Bach recently finished a collage-type painting, and for his next project, he’ll paint Batman to fulfill a request from a customer. The studio occasionally gets requests for work, which encourages the artists, said Kendall, who is also the assistant manager of The Learning Center at New Perceptions.

When an artist sells work, half of the money goes to the artist and half to the Art Abilities program. Often the artists donate their half back to the program by using it to buy supplies, Kendall said. “They can see the difference they’re making.”

In addition to visual arts, Art Abilities also teaches sign language and music, including drums, piano and guitar. “Art Abilities is an all-day party,” Kendall said.

After visiting this all-day party, images of the artwork and the people have stayed with me. For some reason, though, one surprising image keeps coming to mind – the doorway to the Art Abilities room. Maybe it has stayed with me because it seemed so open and welcoming. Maybe I think of it because it stands in contrast to the many closed doors people with disabilities may encounter. The students who walk through this doorway have other doors opened to them – doors to creativity, to relationships with fellow artists, to the larger community. Open doors. Open hearts. Art Abilities.

The Art Abilities program is offered to adults 21 and older with a developmental disability. The potential participants also must have a Medicaid waiver. For more information and program availability, please contact Marlayna Cooney at

Top photo: A variety of works by Art Abilities students are displayed at the 2015 New Perceptions Annual Dinner.

Photos provided by New Perceptions.

About New Perceptions

I’d heard of the organization for years but wasn’t sure about what it offered. Development Director Emily Prabell broke it down for me with the following brief history and overview:

New Perceptions was founded by a group of concerned parents in 1952 to offer services that were scarce in the community at that time for children with special needs. Thanks to parents who wanted the best for their children, individuals with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities receive opportunities for education, growth and employment in a normalized setting to help each person reach his or her maximum potential.

Our Children Services program offers home-based and on-campus specialized therapeutic intervention – occupational, physical, and/or speech – for a variety of developmental needs. An eight-week summer program, Bridging the Gap, offers unique small-group therapy with a focus on sensory movement, social communication and therapeutic school-readiness.

Services for adults include Supported Employment, The Work Center and The Learning Center. Supported Employment offers in-depth, one-on-one support from employment specialists. Participants learn job skills, how to get a job, and techniques to cooperate with coworkers and supervisors to best succeed on the job.

The Work Center provides employment at the New Perceptions campus in parts assembly, kit assembly, collating, bagging, labeling, rework and packaging jobs for small items. Participants learn diverse work skills and increase independent functioning skills.

The Learning Center, new in January 2015, offers adult participants educational opportunities in three supportive settings. The Adult Learning Classroom offers structured learning in topics such as comprehensive reading, life skills reading, life skills math, cooking, health and current events. Adult Day is a relaxed setting for individuals who need greater one-on-one support in learning life skills. Activities are planned and led by staff throughout the day. Art Abilities is open to students who want to learn skills and/or express themselves through art such as sketching, water color, wire design, guitar, piano and sign language.

For more information about New Perceptions, visit its website at You can also learn the latest on its Facebook page.


The Great Bambinos

Young baseball players in blue jerseys and caps sat on the aluminum stands in the Saturday morning sun at Lincoln Woods Park in Florence. After a huddle in the infield that ended with the collective shout of “Team!” the players had just walked off the field of the season’s final game.

Parents, relatives and friends clapped and cheered as Coach Greg Ashcraft stood before the stands and called each player by name. Ashcraft tried to say a bit about the players, maybe how long they’d been in the league or how much they’d improved, as he presented trophies to celebrate a season well-played. Cameras snapped and players beamed as they shared their trophies with their fans.

The scene seemed familiar enough for this time of year. But each player on this team has special needs that might prevent him or her from playing on a traditional baseball team. So they came to play here — Bambino Buddy-Ball.


The faces. When I think of the Bambinos, I think of faces full of joy. Bright eyes and big smiles when players catch a ball or connect for a solid hit. I think of faces strong with determination. The intent and focus when players dart for first, kick up dirt as they round the bases, and bound onto home plate to punctuate their score.

This spring marked the fourth season in our area for Bambino Buddy-Ball, a division of Northern Kentucky Baseball. It was the fourth season to experience the excitement of America’s pastime and to learn what it means to belong to a team. The fourth season to play the game with joyful determination.

My daughter has played Buddy-Ball for two seasons, so I’ve watched a game or two. The faces of fellow fans are something to see too – full of excitement, pride and hope. All these great expressions on all these faces caused me to wonder about the league. What’s its past? What’s its future?

To find out, I talked with Ashcraft. One of the lucky people who turned his love of sports into his vocation, Ashcraft makes his living training and coaching youth athletes in the area. For NKB, Ashcraft is a utility player. He plays administrator, sitting on the organization’s board of directors and overseeing the Bambinos. He plays coach, guiding Bambino players during Saturday morning games. And he plays baseball dad, cheering on daughter Grace, one of the Bambinos.

Bambino Buddy-Ball gets its name from one of the many nicknames of legendary baseball player George Herman “Babe” Ruth. It was established in 2000 by the national Babe Ruth League, with which NKB is affiliated. The young Northern Kentucky division has been in a building phase. Word is spreading, the division is growing, and this season, Ashcraft said, 55 players wore the Bambino patch on their uniform.

Pawsat Pro Photo
Team photo by Pawsat Pro Photo.

It takes a community

Marketing is a key to growing the Buddy-Ball division, said Ashcraft, who came on board two years ago. Through his involvement in the community, Ashcraft spreads the word about the Bambinos in an effort to reach new players and find corporate support and sponsors. A Step Ahead Pediatric Therapy sponsors the Bambinos, helping NKB to offer Buddy-Ball at no cost to its players.

Ashcraft relies on a lot of people for help. “I couldn’t do it without volunteers,” he said.

Other NKB teams come out to the Bambino fields each week to help as buddies and coaches.  The volunteers signed up with enthusiasm this season, Ashcraft said, noting that when he sent out a volunteer list with open spots, it got filled immediately. Each Saturday, 20 to 24 volunteers were needed.

A Saturday morning during the Buddy-Ball season is a family affair for the Ashcrafts. Along with Greg and 12-year-old Grace, daughter Hayley, 20, and son Grant, 10, put on their blue shirts and head out to the field. Hayley coaches the younger Bambinos with her dad, and Grant helps as a buddy. Wife Kym watches from the stands.

Baseball binds the family together, Hayley said. “We’re all going to be there, no matter what.”

For the Bambinos, “having fun is all that really matters.”

Hayley told me she’s worked a lot with children with special needs throughout her life, including volunteering with Special Olympics swimming. That work seemed a good fit for the former high school swimmer, but because she wasn’t a baseball player, she wasn’t so sure about coaching when she started last year. “My dad just kind of roped me into it,” she said.

She found herself at ease soon enough. She saw the energy the players had and how excited they were. “It changed my life,” she said. For the Bambinos, “having fun is all that really matters.”

Looking to the future, one particular challenge for the program is limited facilities. The Bambinos play on dirt fields, which can be uneven and difficult for players with walkers and wheelchairs or other mobility issues. There are other leagues for ballplayers with special needs, such as the Miracle League in Cincinnati, that play on synthetic turf. Ashcraft would like to see those kinds of fields on this side of the river for the growing special needs population in Northern Kentucky.

Along those lines, Ashcraft continues to appeal to the community and corporations for support.  “We want to continue to make it grow,” he said. “We can make it successful here.”

 A love of the game

It may be an odd question when we live in the Cincinnati Reds backyard, but I asked anyway: Why baseball?

“They feel like they’re a part of something,” Ashcraft said of the players. “The experience to get out on a field … and just have that moment to be in the limelight.” It’s an amazing experience, he said, and he hopes the players learn, that even more than winning, “it’s about going out there loving the game.”

In Bambino Buddy-Ball, everyone hits, everyone fields, no one sits out and no one gets out. The players might warm up and work on skills before being divided into teams to take turns at bat and in the field. This season the division played on two fields – one for younger players who hit off a tee, and one for older players hitting machine pitches and off a tee.

Bambinos range in age from 4 to 18, though exceptions may be made, and they are placed on teams according to their age and skills. Buddies help according to need. Some players want a buddy next to them at all times, even running the bases with them. Other players are more independent, but generally everyone gets paired with a buddy in the field. If parents aren’t sure which team is best for their children, Ashcraft evaluates their skills and places them where they will grow as players and have fun.

My daughter certainly enjoys being a Bambino. Anna, 17, said she feels proud and excited to play baseball, especially because she’s following in the footsteps of an older brother. “We get to catch and stuff and we bat,” she told me the morning of the season’s last game after I asked to interview her. “When I bat I have to try to hit it hard and quickly. Sometimes I miss and sometimes I don’t miss and I run to the bases when I hit.”

She also likes being on the field with the volunteers. “There was the Red Dragons that helped us,” she said. “I have a couple of people that are boys that run with me.”

high fives
Bambinos line up to shake hands with their buddies after Saturday’s game. Photo by Susan Cline Photography.

Missie and Don Lunnemann appreciate the interaction with peers that their 12-year-old gets while playing Buddy-Ball. “Jake loves working with the other kids,” Missie said as she stood with her husband near the field before the game. The buddies benefit from the experience too, she said, because they get to know the players, see their abilities and talk baseball with them.

Jake has become more social over the past couple of years, Missie said, and Buddy-Ball has helped. Don agreed, adding, “Experiencing a typical athletic sport is very good for him as well.” The couple also praised Ashcraft. “I appreciate Greg’s dedication,” Don said.

Ashcraft champions baseball’s ability to instill confidence and increase independence. He works hard, he said, to encourage independence among the players and their parents. For some parents, this is the first time to turn their child over to someone else, to sit back and watch. For the players, baseball creates memories of accomplishment that they can rely on to bolster confidence in other areas of their lives, he said.

Ashcraft’s most memorable moments on the field swirl around the expressions on the players’ faces and the heart that they bring to the game. He takes joy in their joy when they hold and swing a bat by themselves, when they experience the success of hitting the ball. He enjoys watching them in the field, even when they’re playing in the dirt.

For all of us who love children, it’s an amazing privilege to watch a child grow. Ashcraft said he’s rewarded with that each week during baseball season. And then there’s the impact on the parents. Parents have told him, “I never knew my child could do that.” These are the home-run moments of the job.


As Saturday’s trophy presentation came to a close, Ashcraft encouraged the players to keep practicing and working hard. He told them to invite others they meet to come out to play with them in the spring. The players climbed down from the stands and prepared to leave the ballpark. No one seemed concerned about wins and losses, outs or hits. They just seemed happy to have had a chance to put on a uniform and play baseball.

Babe Ruth once said, “Never let the fear of striking out keep you from coming up to bat.” As for the players leaving the field on Saturday, they are all great Bambinos.


Find out more

Go to Northern Kentucky Baseball at for more information on its Bambino Buddy-Ball division or contact Greg Ashcraft at


Credit: Top photo by Susan Cline Photography.