Donovan Catholic student, friend organize annual fashion show to benefit youth with autism
By Mary Stadnyk, Associate Editor
For Alyssa Lego and her close friend, Amanda Witkowski, the fashion show they have organized three years running is about much more than trendy clothes. It’s an event that reflects a passion for wanting to make a difference in the lives of youth with autism.
Since 2017, Lego and Witkowski have organized “Shop. Sell. Strut!” as an annual fundraiser for the Morgan Marie Michael Foundation, which Lego established as a way to raise awareness about youth with autism.
Lego, a member of St. Luke Parish and a sophomore in Donovan Catholic High School, both Toms River, said she was inspired to create the foundation after recognizing, at a very young age, the often-adverse treatment her younger brother, Michael, received because he has special needs.
“I wanted to change that,” said Lego, explaining that her brother, who is non-verbal, communicates differently.
A main goal of the foundation is to provide learning tools such as iPads and software to children on the autism spectrum as a way to help them better communicate. As such, this year’s “Shop. Sell. Strut!” fashion show will be held May 19 at iPlay America, Freehold. The goal is to raise $25,000.
Lego proudly noted that her brother has blossomed in his ability to communicate since using an iPad. “It totally changed his life. He is able to learn and communicate outside of school,” she said.
“I want to help make that happen for every child who struggles with autism,” she said, adding that her other efforts to promote autism awareness have included addressing school assemblies, visiting hospitals and delivering sensory toys to special-needs children.
Lego said the idea for the fundraiser evolved through her friendship with Witkowski, a student in Sacred Heart University, Fairfield, Conn. The two came to know each other through their participation in beauty pageants, a mutual love for fashion and the desire to support those on the autism spectrum.
The behind-the-scenes work that goes into coordinating the event includes publicity, locating a venue and auditioning the models for the fashion show. It is an inordinate amount of work, and Lego said she and Witkowski are grateful for the support they receive from their families and community. Having transferred to Donovan Catholic in the fall, Lego added that she appreciates the interest her school has expressed toward her endeavors as well.
“My parents have always instilled in me the importance of giving back to the less fortunate,” Lego said. “I truly believe that having the desire to help others is the best gift you can receive.”