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 Official Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay, WisconsinJanuary 12, 2007 Issue 

Fashions show tweens dignity and modesty

Runway to Reality offers an alternative approach to fashions

By Jeff Kurowski
Compass Assistant Editor

photo of pre-teen girls modeling stylish, yet tasteful, fashions
FASHION SENSE: Pre-teen girls model stylish, yet tasteful, outfits. The photo is used in the 'Tween Appeal' presentation offered by Runway to Reality, a non-profit organization in the Fox Valley that promotes dignity through fashion. In addition to programs for pre-teens, teens and adults, Runway to Reality offers a quarterly online newsletter. In November of 2007, it will host a Catholic women's conference in Kimberly. (Photo courtesy of Lindsey Van Roy Photography)

Runway to Reality, a non-profit organization in the Fox Valley that emphasizes the dignity of women, has grown considerably since its inception in the summer of 2004.

The organization, founded by mothers and friends, Monica Cops, Molly Miller, Cheri Sandlin and Denice Patz, who has since left the organization to pursue other interests, began as "Teen Appeal," a program designed to combat negative fashion trends for teens. The women, who received training from Elegance in Style and the Murray Hill Institute, soon added "Head to Toe," a program of workshops to help women express their dignity through fashion and their overall look.

Today, Runway to Reality has a website featuring a quarterly newsletter, new associates, Pam Hamman, Debra Hartzheim and Terri Muskevitsch, and a new program, "Tween Appeal." In November of 2007, they will host a Catholic women's conference in Kimberly.

"In the past couple of years, through our presentations and talking with people, we've identified pockets of needs out there and we've tried to address them," said Sandlin, who manages Runway to Reality's business operations. "It's our goal to help educate girls and women of all ages. We are non-profit, so we are not in this to get rich. It really is our apostolate. We hope to fill a need."

"Teen Appeal" and "Head to Toe" continue as core programs of Runway to Reality. The workshops and seminars for teens focus on teaching girls to draw attention to their faces through fashion and to feel confident in their appearance. "Tween Appeal" is designed for pre-teen girls.

"We originally sent out packets targeting girls at the sixth grade level, but we've realized that the ages in which girls are dealing with suggestive fashion trends is getting younger and younger," said Miller, a fashion consultant and hair stylist by trade. "Girls are growing up faster. The younger girls are more receptive to the message, so we worked on a program."

"We decided, 'Let's try the fifth graders,'" said Sandlin. "I was a little concerned that the information we were presenting was above their heads, but we need to reach the kids when they are young. We can talk to a group of teenagers -15, 16 and 17-year-olds -and out of a group of 25, if we can reach two of them, we are doing well. Starting with girls at an earlier age, it's easier to plant the seed."

One advantage of presenting workshops to younger girls is that they likely do not shop on their own, said Cops, a graphic artist who produces the computer presentations for the workshops.

"We teach them how to shop," she said. "We can teach them how to find clothes that fit their style personalities. We also try to make them secure in acting their age. It's okay to be a 10-year-old. They don't need to act like a 17-year-old. Enjoy these years. There is a lot of pressure to hurry up and do the things the older girls are doing."

Runway to Reality presents workshops at various venues including schools, churches and homes. They developed a 12-week series for middle school students. Holy Spirit School, Darboy/Kimberly, offered the series as an elective.

"It was a very nice program," said Sue Simonsen, principal at Holy Spirit School. "It was open to all sixth, seventh and eighth graders. They emphasized modest twists on fashion. They showed the girls how they could still be very stylish while dressing modestly. I received a call from the Oshkosh Public Schools asking about the program. I recommend it."

The women enjoy presenting at all schools, but the Catholic schools allow for spiritual elements in the program, said Miller.

"We focus on the child of God in a Christian and Catholic setting," she said. All body types are just as beautiful. Everybody is different. Beauty comes from having a relationship with Jesus."

Among the activities introduced to the girls is an exercise calling them to name five good things about themselves.

"It helps them reflect on their inner beauty and outer beauty," said Cops. "We then ask them to name five good things about another person."

"It is a good self-esteem exercise," said Sandlin. "We try to promote positive self-esteem, and give them confidence. We want to create a positive mindset."

Sometimes, high self-esteem is misdirected.

"One girl told me that she dresses the way she does because she has a nice, big bottom, and she wants the boys to notice it," said Cops. "I told her that she might not realize it, but she is not only attracting the attention of boys at school, but, by dressing that way, she is attracting the attention of old men as well. That made her feel uncomfortable, so I believe she got the message."

The Teen Appeal Newsletter, available at, includes fashion forecasts, recipes, saint profiles, prayers and inspirational quotes.

The Catholic women's conference, entitled "Beauty & the Blessed," is scheduled for Nov. 17 at Liberty Hall in Kimberly. Johnette Benkovic, radio host, author and founder of "Women of Grace," a Catholic apostolate for Christian women, will be the featured speaker. Mary Ann Budnik, a Catholic journalist and author will also present. She has appeared as a guest on several EWTN shows. Fr. Mark Vander Steeg, pastor at St. Mary Parish, Greenville, will preside at Mass at the conference. Sponsorship opportunities are available.

"Our mission is to change the culture for women and we felt there was a need for a Catholic women's conference, so we met with the diocese and received a thumbs up," said Sandlin. "It's an opportunity for women of faith who are Catholic to come together, be represented and celebrate that faith."

To arrange a Runway to Reality workshop or speaking engagement, or for sponsorship information about "Beauty & the Blessed," the Catholic women's conference, contact Molly Miller at (920)993-8716 or e-mail: [email protected].

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