Annual spring fashion show benefits children’s center

As they have done for the last 15 years, the stylish ladies of the Hibiscus Children’s Center’s Indian River Guild ushered in the springtime with their annual Blue Ribbon Luncheon and Fashion Show at the Oak Harbor Club. The sold-out luncheon was one of many held throughout the nation in recognition of April as National Child Abuse Prevention Month.

Arriving guests mingled over champagne and mimosas, sat for quick makeovers from Chanel representatives, and perused numerous silent auction items. Gorgeous floral displays of white hydrangeas, orchids and lilies, created by Fé Domenech of Event Firm International, graced the lobby and dining tables.

“People don’t realize the work behind the scenes that goes into these events,” said Carol Casey, one of several volunteers who helped set up the night before. “But it’s fun, and that’s how the people in the Guild bond.”

The ladies also learned of a new fundraising effort, spearheaded by Nadja Ricci, Stacey Barnett and Margaret Anne Evans, called Tile Our Youth’s Foundation. The project will replace well-worn bedroom carpeting with tile flooring in each of the eight four-bedroom homes, at an estimated cost of $6,500 per home.

Hibiscus CEO Michael Waninger, noted that the organization, founded in 1985 by LaVaughn Tilton, will begin its 30th year on July 1.

“This has been a year of transition,” said Waninger. “It’s all coming together which is really good, but with the same mission as 29 years ago – it’s all about the children.”

David Busch, owner of Chelsea’s on Cardinal, teamed up with Cindy O’Dare, broker associate with Premier Estate Properties, to emcee the event.

“I love the Hibiscus Children’s Center; it’s so amazing,” said Busch. “I’m just happy to be a part of it.”

Following the delightful luncheon, guest speaker Michele NeSmith reinforced the critical need to protect children from physical and emotional abuse and neglect. Staggering statistics indicate that nearly five children die every day from abuse and neglect.

Her voice filled with raw emotion, NeSmith recounted that her first position as a newly graduated psychotherapist five years ago had been in providing trauma-focused therapy to Hibiscus children through its sexual abuse treatment program. She is currently employed at a private residential treatment center in Ft. Lauderdale.

“I’ve witnessed the positive impact Hibiscus has had on these little children,” said NeSmith.

Remembering their stories of abuse, she said the children had been raised in households where monsters were all too real and very dangerous, inflicting horrors that would scar them emotionally and physically for years.

Regardless of age, race or background, all truly believed that the abuse they experienced was their own fault, and it was her job to help them understand they were not to blame.

“The earlier victims realize they are not to blame, that they are not damaged or dirty, the sooner they can begin to heal.”

She currently works with adolescent girls, the majority of whom are “self-medicating” with drugs and alcohol to forget childhood sexual trauma, and she often reflects that they could have benefited from early intervention programs such as those at Hibiscus.

The money raised through the event goes towards numerous Hibiscus programs that help improve the quality of life for these children, many of whom have never even experienced the joy of a birthday party.

The Fashion Show portion of the afternoon kicked off with a charming selection of clothes from Twirl Kid’s Boutique. A delightful group of girls, from toddlers to tweens, braved the runway as the audience clapped in encouragement.

Cooper and Company’s Melinda Cooper selected another lovely assortment of fashions for this year’s show, including colorful resort wear, a collection of lovely dresses and separates suitable for work or play, dazzling cocktail dresses and elegant evening gowns.

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