Well, they did it again. “They” being Goodwill Industries of Greater New York and Northern New Jersey; “it” being coming up with creative and innovative ways to showcase the services provided by the organization and the marvelous people who avail themselves of these.
Last Friday, Goodwill NYNJ’s headquarters at 400 Supor Blvd. was the setting for both an art exhibit by a wonderfully gifted young painter and a fashion show featuring client models wearing clothing from Goodwill’s retail stores.
The event celebrated National Disability Employment Awareness Month, which was apt since Goodwill’s century-old stated mission is “to provide opportunities for individuals with disabilities and other barriers to employment to gain independence through the power of work.”
With work as the focus, the “Rock the Runway” fashion show highlighted “modern businessmen,” “business casual” and “corporate holiday party” outfits. These had been selected from the Goodwill shops by Maria Torres, director of retail operations.
There are 10 such stores in N.J., including one in Harrison, and if you haven’t paid a visit recently, you might be surprised at the range of fashions available. Not only will you be getting a bargain, but your purchases will also help fund Goodwill’s programs.
Needless to say, to the delight and applause of the full-house audience, the models did rock the runway, a la any New York Fashion Week event. These individuals, with all types of disabilities, are participants in Goodwill NYNJ’s Extended Employment and Long Term Follow Along programs.
Lori Friedman, senior vice president for N.J. Operations, noted that the fashion-show concept came from Goodwill staffers, who have also organized shows in N.Y. “An event like this takes a lot of effort,” she said, crediting the diligence of the Harrison staff, including Donna Morgan, who spearheaded Friday’s successful project.
As for the art exhibit, it featured works by Ronaldo Byrd, an artist in the autism spectrum who has been drawing and painting since age 3. Born and raised in Canarsie, Brooklyn, the 28-year-old now lives in Burlington, where his gallery, Ronaldo’s Art Corner is also located.
He studied at the High School of Art & Design in New York and has to date developed more than 200 characters who are featured in both his paintings and children’s books. Among them is “Bobby Braids,” a little boy with a unique hairstyle who learns the importance of being true to oneself and helps other children realize “it’s not what’s on the outside, but what’s inside” that counts in someone.
On Saturday, Ronaldo was headed for Philadelphia, where his work would be featured in an “Autism Speaks” art show. You can view his work at Ronaldo’s Art Corner Facebook page and at ronaldos-art-corner.myshopify.com.
The artist’s mother, Valerie Spencer-Byrd, who writes the text for his books, accompanied him to the Harrison program and addressed the audience, noting the philosophy both she and her son share: “Keep reaching for the moon, and even if you miss, at least you’ll be among the stars.”
Every time she visits Goodwill in Harrison, your correspondent knows she is among the stars.