"Autism has grown so fast in a short amount of time," said Smith, a Cartersville resident whose 11-year-old son has Asperger's, a high-functioning form of the developmental disorder known as autism. "So many kids have been diagnosed. They're more or less calling it an epidemic and it's just hard to keep up with all of it. Just to let them obtain the knowledge and the education that they need to be able to support the kids -- that's what's key."
This year, the fashion show will be held Thursday at 7:30 p.m. at the Cartersville Downtown Depot, One Friendship Plaza. For $25, individuals will be admitted into the event featuring apparel available at the show's sponsors -- Alex Boutique and Riley's Menswear -- this fall. The ticket will grant attendees a 20-percent discount at the two stores on regular-priced merchandise Friday and Saturday.
"We typically, after it's all said and done, tally up how many tickets we sold, what kind of corporate sponsorships we had and see the amount of money that the community raises for two great organizations," said Melissa Porter, owner of Riley's Menswear, adding along with Autism in Bartow, the show will benefit the Respite program of Oakland Heights Baptist Church's Angel Ministry. "That's always so exciting to us.
"Then this past year ... Brenda gave us a printout of this is where $2,000 went and this is where the other $2,000 went and a certain number of families were able to go to a conference that they wouldn't have been able to go [to]. I think I cried when she ended up telling us what seems to us like miniscule money is huge because it was able to do so, so much for those organizations."
In 2009, the Fashion for a Cause event raised about $15,000 and also benefited this year's recipients. Held at Oakland Heights Baptist Church -- 1439 Highway 411 in Cartersville -- the Respite program provides enrichment for individuals with special needs and their siblings, while enabling their parents to have some needed free time.
The ministry was created about four years ago by Chris and Kim Chester, whose daughter, Haley, has cerebral palsy.
"They saw that there was a need for respite care in the area and a lot of our parents that have special needs kids -- not just kids with autism, but any special needs -- always need a break, just a chance to have somebody look after the kids while they go do an errand or whatever," Smith said, adding several of Autism in Bartow's 75 families utilize the Respite program. "So Kim and Chris started this at their church. ... It's just a lifesaver. [Parents] just need an outlet, someone that understands what they're going through and that's willing to say, 'Hey, I'll keep your kids for the day, go do whatever you need to do.'
"They're just stressed beyond belief," she said about parents of special needs children. "A lot of them don't have families here and once you have a child with autism it really takes a pretty special person to be able to babysit and deal with the kind of issues they have. Kim and Chris have trained all of their volunteers. They've taken it upon themselves to train everyone to know how to deal with certain situations."
Tickets to Fashion for a Cause can be obtained at the event or at the Cartersville stores -- Alex Boutique, 14 W. Main St., and Riley's Menswear, 650 Henderson Drive, Suite 104. For more information about the benefit, call Porter at 770-382-4829. Details on the Angel Ministry's Respite program or Autism in Bartow can be found at www.oaklandheights.com or www.autisminbartow.com, respectively.