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Feature in the Valley Breeze 01.17.24

Shea Fashion goes citywide in Pawtucket

"The long-running Shea Fashion Show is now an independent nonprofit, expanding its reach beyond the Shea High School walls and to students across the city.

Will Lopera is executive director of Shea Fashion and a former student at the school who founded the program back in 2010. He told The Breeze that this move creates an independent after-school program for all Pawtucket students that will keep getting bigger and better, benefitting more and more young people.

“We will continue working closely with the Shea and Tolman communities, but are independent and not owned by one school,” he said. “We decided to keep the name Shea Fashion to pay homage to our beginnings at Shea.” They now gain more control of how the program operates, he said, as well as the ability to raise funds.

“Shea Fashion, a pioneering nonprofit organization, is proud to announce its commitment to fostering personal growth and real-world experiences for youth in low-income and underserved communities through the transformative power of creative arts and fashion,” said organization leaders in a release.

They are currently working with more than 70 students for this year’s fashion showcase. Students in the Runway to Confidence program, started at the beginning of the month, meet every Thursday in the Tolman High School auditorium. That’s the auditorium where this year’s show, planned for May 4, will happen. The move to Tolman was necessitated by facility issues at Shea and the fact that they’ve outgrown that space, said Lopera, with 850 to 900 people now attending.

There are students involved from several city and area schools, including from Blackstone Valley Prep, Jackie Walsh School, Blackstone Academy and Davies, with the only requirement being that participants be Pawtucket residents. Lopera said the much larger pool of students to draw from is great for the show and program.

This year’s theme will be Haus of Cards, and will be based on the literal interpretation of each suit in a deck of playing cards. For the show’s purposes, those four suits will represent the four seasons traditionally featured.

The ultimate goals, said Lopera, is for Shea Fashion to potentially have their own building eventually, and for him to perhaps even lead the program in a full-time capacity.

One of the big needs right now is to land sponsors for the show, as they have no funds saved up due to detaching from the schools. “We’re starting at zero,” said Lopera. Email or call 401-663-1366 for more on being a sponsor.

Lopera said they also have a great group of students working behind the scenes this year, and some of them are also models in the show. Shea Fashion was founded by Lopera and Shea teacher Phyllis McHale. Lopera will be serving as executive director, and McHale as program director. The current board of directors includes Sharon Olivera, Ethan Armitano, Sylvia Amefia, and Jen Agin.

By providing access to opportunities, Shea Fashion aims to enrich communities, build partnerships with schools, families, businesses, and community organizations, and create a pathway to a brighter future for young individuals. “Recognizing the incredible potential of young minds, Shea Fashion has dedicated itself to ensuring that no creative aspiration is limited by economic circumstances,” they say. “Through an array of innovative programs, workshops, and mentorship initiatives, Shea Fashion seeks to empower youth to explore their artistic talents, express their individuality, and develop valuable life skills.”

Key Elements of Shea Fashion’s mission are:

• Access to real-world experiences;

• Personal growth through expression;

• Community enrichment;

• Promoting diversity and inclusion;

• And empowering future leaders.

“We are thrilled to launch Shea Fashion’s initiative focused on empowering youth in low-income communities. Our goal is to provide opportunities that not only spark creativity but also facilitate personal growth and skill development. Through partnerships and collaborations, we aim to create a positive ripple effect that benefits not only the youth themselves but also their families and communities,” said McHale.

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