Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Sisters on the Runway successfully hosts benefit fashion show for Safe Passage

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(Robert Rigo/Daily Collegian)

(Robert Rigo/Daily Collegian)

Sisters on the Runway’s fifth annual benefit fashion show transformed the University of Massachusetts Amherst Campus Center Auditorium Sunday night into what looked and felt like a high-end venue for a professional fashion show.

Guests entered the room walking in on a red carpet, with photographers snapping pictures against the Sisters on the Runway backdrop.

Everyone was dressed to impress and mingled amongst one another enjoying the delicious mocktails and catered desserts. People stood in front of white curtains strung with Christmas lights, sipping on mock champagne and buying raffle tickets while waiting for the show to begin.

As people began to take their seats around the T-shaped runway, lined with rose petals and candles, there was a tangible sense of positive energy in the crowd. People were not just there to see the season’s latest trends but to provide needed support for Safe Passage, a domestic violence shelter and resource center located in Northampton.

Sisters on the Runway, “a national organization which strives to raise awareness for domestic violence prevention,” hosted its show in order to both educate the public about the issues of domestic violence and to provide needed monetary support for Safe Passage.

All proceeds coming from the raffle tickets, the cost of the show tickets and the dress and shoe sale at the end of the show went directly to Safe Passage. Since Alissar Taremi and Kaelyn Siversky founded the UMass SOTR division five years ago, the organization has raised $16,225.

Co-president Shireen Pourbemani said she feels “very strongly that, like many other issues in the world, domestic violence is not given as much attention as it should.”

She said she joined SOTR, “So that I could make a difference and change the odds … I have never met such a welcoming group of people on the UMass campus and could not be more appreciative of the team at Safe Passage.”

Her fellow co-president Sarah Figueiredo added that the program has seen visible results based on conversations she’s had with Director of Safe Passage Marianne Winters.

“(Winters) had told us that they recently had a survivor contact them and said that they heard about Safe Passage through SOTR and was able to get away from a dangerous situation they had at home,” Figueiredo said.

“How can SOTR not continue to be an important aspect of my life after hearing that SOTR helped someone get the assistance they needed and possibly even save a life?”

The whole SOTR team had been dutifully working on this year’s benefit show since September. The models are all regular students, as well, women willing to donate their time for the cause.

“The models come to all of the general body meetings and events that we hold,” Pourbemani said. “They also meet with us a separate time once a week to practice for the show. It isn’t easy walking up and down a runway in those heels.”

The UMass Stage Crew Dance Team opened the night performing to two different songs, followed by The Doo Wop Shop, a male a capella group. They performed “Make Me Spin,” “My Girl” and ended with a fun mash-up of some classic Disney tunes.

Afterward, the show took a more serious turn when Winters came out to give a talk about domestic violence in the community. Her speech was personal and touching as she reached out to the audience directly, saying, “You are all evidence that domestic violence education and awareness has begun to take hold in our community.”

She emotionally continued, speaking gratefully about SOTR and how the show was going to “bring our talents, our beauty, our hope, our passion to the awareness of domestic violence.” In the past, many people and institutions ignored domestic violence or did not understand the severity and reach of it. Now, because of groups like SOTR and Safe Passage, they have been changing the odds for many victims and survivors.

The funds provided by the show are used to respond to all different types of crises, from having to send women out of state in order to be safe to helping transport pets and children and keeping their hotline running.

“Sisters on the Runway has saved the lives of woman who are victims of domestic violence in Hampshire County,” Winters said.

Events like these are crucial for raising awareness. Domestic violence education is necessary for the health of the community as a whole, and for the individual. Alida Lefebvre, a speaker from the UMass Center for Women and Community, said, “Educating and spreading the word is letting the world know that we will not tolerate violence.”

The models absolutely glowed as they walked on stage. Each time one model passed another, they did a little wave, hip-bump, or fun, coordinated motion as a signal of friendship, camaraderie and support, upholding the spirit of the event.

“Who wouldn’t want to see some fabulous, real girls strut down the runway to some fun songs while wearing beautiful outfits generously donated by our various designers?” Figueiredo said.

Fashion show sponsors included 25 Central, Black & White Boutique, Chantilly Dallas, Colby Galvin, Gillian Cowen, Grace and Lace, Hale Bob, It’s All About Me, Julie Mollo, Loft Outlet, Mata Traders, Od Boutique, rue21, Sincerely Sweet Boutique, Urban Exchange, Us Trendy and Yellow Clover.

After the show, people were allowed to buy the dresses and shoes that the models had just showed off. Many people stuck around to thank the models, show support for their friends and continue supporting the cause.

Throughout the year, Sisters on the Runway held other events as well to raise money, such as Zumba with Michelle, an event at the Monkey Bar and numerous bake sales.

“Any amount of money really helps and goes a long way,” Pourbemani said.

Figueiredo added: “We are glad to hear that people who need help are getting the help they need with our assistance.”

Students interested in getting involved with SOTR can like its Facebook page and other social media accounts to get updates on meetings and other events. Students can also join the general body meetings. Board member auditions are at the end of this year, while model tryouts for next year’s fashion show are set for the start of the next fall semester.

Regardless of involvement, it is important to personally take responsibility to educate one’s self and others on what constitutes a healthy relationship and always speak up if something does not feel right to you.

Sisters on the Runway Benefit Fashion Show truly is a glamorous way to support a great cause.

Madeleine Jackman can be reached at [email protected] Sanah Rizvi contributed to this article.

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