Kids strut for a cause: PDM raises money for Children’s Hospital


Audrey Wozniak and her PDM sponsor Kelsey Winters, a first-year nursing student, strut down the runway during the Pitt Dance Marathon Annual Fashion Show at the Soldiers and Sailors Auditorium Monday night. (Photo by Chiara Rigaud | Staff Photographer)

By Madeline Gavatorta and Kieran Mclean | The Pitt News Staff

Twelve children, ages 4 to 17, modeled personally selected JCPenney outfits in the Soldiers and Sailors auditorium Monday night on a runway of bright white Christmas lights. They were the main event at Pitt Dance Marathon’s fashion show.

PDM’s Annual Fashion Show, is in its third year and raised $3,034 — compared to $2,502 in 2017 and $2,995 the year before — from ticket sales to raise money for the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh. There were three rounds for the kids part of the Children’s Miracle Network at the hospital or who are siblings of Miracle Children — all of which had them walking or dancing to artists from Ed Sheeran to Katy Perry.

In the first round, which was sponsored by JCPenney — who gave the kids the chance to choose outfits outside of store hours — kids walked down the runway with a PDM sponsor. For the second round, the kids walked with sponsors from the top 11 fundraising teams. In the third, they walked with both sponsors, dressed as what they want to be as adults.

Sean Nolan models JCPenney outfits alongside his Pitt Dance Marathon sponsor Niamh Dawson, a first-year student, in PDM’s Annual Fashion Show, which benefits the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh. (Photo by Chiara Rigaud | Staff Photographer)

Jesse Irwin, who graduated from Pitt in December 2017, hosted the night and said he understood the event on a personal level. Irwin said he was hospitalized for three to four months during his first year of college after his stomach started hurting. He was then diagnosed with Crohn’s disease and said he knows what a burden it is for a family to go through a loved one in the hospital.

“That was exhausting for my family. I mean, yes, it was hard for me, but it’s even harder for the people around you,” Irwin said.

His experience helped him understand what the children were going through — one reason why he came back to host PDM’s fashion show.

“If you are gonna spotlight anybody, why not spotlight the kids that have gone through that kind of adversity? Even if it’s a sibling, I mean think about what that’s like as a young kid to have your older or younger sibling be in the hospital,” Irwin said.

Victoria Bianco, executive board member of the Pitt Alumni Dance Council, described the show as meant for everyone.

“It was a family inclusive event,” she said.

One model, Nicholas Mote, 14, works as a patient ambassador for the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh. Mote had a blood disorder but received a transplant because his sister was a 100 percent bone marrow match. He has participated in a number of fundraising events, including Shear Da Beard — an event to benefit the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC — with former Steelers defensive end Brett Keisel. He did the fashion show for “all the people who got through stuff like I did.”

“It was amazing,” Mote said.

Mackenzie McGill, the representative from Alpha Delta Pi (left) poses with young model Shannon Witkouski and PDM sponsor Makayla Sheffer (right) during the third round of PDM’s Annual Fashion Show. (Photo by Chiara Rigaud | Staff Photographer)

Another model and Miracle Child, Jimmy Spagnolo, danced each time he was on stage as the crowd cheered on. In between the second and third rounds, his mother, Lacie Spagnolo, shared her son’s story of being diagnosed with a brain tumor at 4 months old.

“He was born perfectly healthy, and about four months later, he was at the pediatric appointment and his eyes were shaking and his head was measured a little bit bigger,” Spagnolo said. “And 48 hours later we have a baby with a brain tumor.”

Spagnolo continued to say that the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh “took care of us.” Since February 2017, “Jimmer,” as his mom referred to him, has been stable and has not needed medication. She also said these events are important to the kids.

“You guys are giving these Miracle Kids memories they’re going to have for the rest of their lives. You’re cheering for them, it’s gonna make their world,” Spagnolo said.

Irwin said he’d come back to host the fashion show for the next 15 years if he could, because “this is what it’s all about.”

“I want to do anything I can to make sure that those families, when the ball bounces and they hit rock bottom and they bounce back up, you want it to bounce higher than it initially fell from,” Irwin said. “I think this is a really fun way to do that.”

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