As I sit back and think about the 2013 Runway To Hope Spring Fashion Soiree, one of the biggest things that comes to mind are SMILES! Not just any smile, but smiles so big, so true, so real, that you just know that the one smiling is so into that moment that everything else going on is obsolete and nothing else matters!
Just over a week ago approximately 90 brave boys and girls ages 2 to 18 gathered and prepared at Rosen Shingle Creek in Orlando, Florida for a special night of glitz, glam and runway fun! One thing each of these children have in common and could relate to each other about was their battles with pediatric cancer. Some were survivors in remission with stories and experiences to share, some were recently diagnosed and battling through surgeries and chemo treatments, literally that week, that day! Another thing these little superstars could relate to was this evening, an evening to forget all that cancer stuff and have fun, SMILE and be spoiled in ways most could only dream of. The kids got the opportunity to strut their stuff on a spectacular runway with celebrities, philanthropists, local cancer surgeons, doctors and nurses, all in front of their families and approximately 1,700 other guests with the goal of raising money for an amazing organization that gives back so much to the community. The mission statement on Runway to Hope’s website says, “Runway To Hope’s vision is to serve and provide direct support to the children and families in the Central Florida community who have been impacted by pediatric cancer. Assistance includes but is not limited to research, education, technology and family assistance. Runway To Hope aids these children and their families by partnering with Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children, Florida Hospital for Children, corporations, local businesses and philanthropists to raise funds and awareness so that progress made locally will benefit all children with cancer, nationally and worldwide.”
With that in mind, Runway to Hope hosts this event each year that includes a cocktail party with VIP/Celebrity meet and greets, a gourmet multi-course dinner, as well as live and silent auctions. Of course the highlight of the evening is the fashion show, where the kids shine on the runway and get the opportunity to hang with local and national celebrities. This year, USA Olympic Gold Medalist Gabby Douglas and female actress in The Twilight Series/Saga Ashley Greene, were the celebrity hosts who did a fabulous job in the VIP room, backstage with all the kids, as well as on stage during the main event. Many other national and local celebrities came out to walk the runway and support the cause as well. This included famous professional sports athletes and coaches, musicians, entertainers, local news anchors and reporters, politicians and public servants, as well as CEO’s and founders of many large local businesses, magazines and foundations. Another highlight during the cocktail party, Seaworld Orlando unveiled their newest attraction, Antarctica: Empire of the Penguin.
Once the doors to the main room were open, all the guests were treated to a multi-course gourmet dinner while experiencing incredible video presentations by a good friend of ours and colleague, Schuyler Osborne of Perfect Sky Productions. You can view Runway To Hope’s Mission Video HERE and this year’s Beauty/Boys Bash video HERE. Live auctions were held that included “The Shaq Package”, lunch and an afternoon basketball game with Shaquille O’Neal (who also taped a ton of video clips along with other celebrities that you can see HERE), vacation packages to Cancun, Bali, Italy and Thailand, VIP tickets to Live with Kelly & Michael in NYC, and a crazy cool VIP package to this year’s 2013 Emmy Awards in Hollywood, California! It was great to see so many people and organizations come together to make an event like this happen! To watch and photograph all this going on you can only imagine all of the smiles and fun everybody had while coming together to raise money for pediatric cancer.
Then came this year’s awards… First, Orlando Magic’s Jameer Nelson, through the DeVos Community Enrichment Award, presented Runway to Hope with a gracious donation of $25,000.00! Next Runway to Hope presented two awards on stage. The Corporate Hero Award, which was presented to Peggy Parish of SeaWorld Orlando and the Johnny Holloway’s Children’s Hope Award, which was awarded to US……the Nielsens, Cristy and I!! This award was a total shock and surprise to both of us and we are so thankful to be recognized on such a grand scale. This award is voted on by the Board of Directors of the charity and given to an individual/pair or company who represents the spirit of and dedication to Runway to Hope. Not only did we get up on stage to accept this award, but our oldest daughter was in attendance and was able to come up with us and experience the honor and thrill of being in front of so many! Cristy and I both work extremely hard for this charity and have put so much effort and time into it over the past 4 years. Mostly though it is about the kids and as mentioned above, making them smile and forget what they are going through, even for just an evening! We love seeing these kids grow throughout the years as many have returned to the runway for their third year now. We also experience the heart break that comes with childhood cancer, and have been honored to be invited to services and memorials of the children that have lost their battle to this horrible disease. Needless to say, this award was an honor and a humbling experience that both Cristy and I will always hold dear to our hearts. We love everything that Runway To Hope is about, look forward to it year after year, and smile just looking at these images, thank you Runway To Hope.
Yes it is true, Cristy and I were both wearing camera gear while accepting this award on stage as we were working the event along with our crew of 5 other fabulous photographers when this was given! We’d like to especially thank our team of photographers who are each so talented. Margie Schulz, Mike and Ann Buoy, Chris Kocher, and our sweet daughter who did an amazing job and gave of their time and hearts for this cause. We couldn’t have done this without them and are so proud of the work we all did together that night!!
The night concluded with an incredible fashion show where each of the kids had the opportunity to walk the runway and do their thing. For some walking up and back was enough, but for others this was their time to shine and man did they shine! Who could forget Morgan WALKING the runway, or little Sarah just looking cute with her little arms curled, swaying in her tiara and grinning. How about Marleigh stomping hard down the runway in her white boots and pom poms, or Nadia shooting glitter in the air as she posed at the end of the runway! There was Austin looking cool and calm as ever, and my man Dalen putting on a show and “up-staging” Jameer Nelson! Runway veteran Elijah was smiling from ear to ear and putting out his awesome energy, and little man Paul threw both arms up and took in all the applause when he took his turn at the end of the runway! Gabriella charmed the audience with her smiles, and Miss Erin opened the show this year instead of ending it! Markel was styling and did a little dance when given the opportunity, and once again, like last year, Ysa blew the roof off the house with her confidence and powerful presence on the runway! I could go on, but I think checking out some of the images would be better!
More SMILES and fun!
And yes, more SMILES!
Please view more images from the event on our Facebook Page HERE, or you can visit the Nielsens’s full Runway To Hope gallery to browse images from this and all events. Click the link HERE to access the photo gallery! All proceeds from images purchased through the gallery directly benefit Runway To Hope. Please keep checking back over the next week as more images from the 2013 Spring Fashion Soiree continue to be added!
Finally, I want to say a huge heartfelt thank you to the founders of Runway To Hope, Mark and Josie NeJame (and Miss Evie who gracefully walked the runway with them).
Without this amazing couple, there would be no Runway To Hope. Your vision, drive, and compassion have created a truly amazing charity that is touching the lives of so many. Cristy and I have watched this charity grow and do unthinkable things. But then again your vision from the beginning has been much bigger, and we have no doubt you will accomplish what you have set out to do! Thank you for opening your hearts to so many and giving the ways that you do. Thank you for thinking big and putting together such a broad, amazing collaboration of people that all share in such a powerful and common goal. Thank you for showing us more ways to give and do within our community. Thank you for SMILING, being real, and bringing joy and fun to all the kids and families of Runway To Hope. Finally, thank you for entrusting us to photograph so many wonderful events with so many incredible people over the years. Being a part of the Runway To Hope family has been life changing and a true blessing to our family!