By Karen Billing
The Blue Roses Girls will own the runway at their third annual Celebration of Style Fashion Show on Sunday, May 18. The fashion show is the year’s only fundraiser for The Blue Roses Girls, a friendship organization for girls on the autism spectrum or with other developmental disorders.
Each girl walks the runway in their own selected clothing and the audience can see the excitement and pride on the girls’ faces as they strut the runway sporting their own styles, from cowboy hats to glitters galore to a formal dress and Chuck Taylor sneakers.
“The first year we were freaking out,” said Srividya Ananthanarayanan, a Carmel Valley resident and cofounder of Blue Roses, in reference to herself and fellow mothers. “But the girls took the stage and they were so beautiful and so happy and so smiling…They were all flying sky high.”
“It’s just a great day and a great way to show the community what we’re doing,” said co-founder Carol Fletcher.
This year’s third annual fashion show will be held at the Barona Golf and Conference Center in Lakeside on Sunday, May 18. The event includes a sit-down dinner and silent auction, in addition to the fashion show and bonus dance performance from the Blue Roses Girls. Tickets are available on the organization’s website and all the funds raised go back to the girls and their activities and programming throughout the year. The organization stresses being a fun, safe place for the girls that provides as much as they can free of charge for their members.
Ananthanarayanan is a mother of both a daughter and a son who are autistic. She connected with her fellow Blue Roses founders, Fletcher and Jazel Peterzell, through her daughter’s speech therapy sessions. Peterzell and Fletcher had met through Valerie’s List, an informational website for parents of children with autism spectrum disorders.
Fletcher had noticed when her daughter, Sidney, turned 10, that her peers were on a different trajectory and she just couldn’t keep up with them socially. Fletcher turned to Valerie’s List to find support and found Peterzell, who was looking for the same thing, a friend for her daughter, Cheyenne.
“We knew if we were having trouble finding appropriate level playmates for our daughters, there were probably other moms in that same boat,” said Fletcher.
They selected the name “Blue Roses” for their group as it’s a very unique kind of flower and the moms feel all their girls are unique in their own way.
Now 13, Sidney has friends to go to the movies with and last week she had her first sleepover.
“Blue Roses Girls has let her know that it’s OK to be different and that your friends will accept you just the way you are,” Fletcher said,
Fletcher said more than providing the girls with the gift of friendship, Blue Roses also provides an outlet for the parents too — they understand the difficulties they are going through and can be a resource for each other.
The organization serves any girl with a disability and there are some typically developing girls in their group, as well, such as Ananthanarayanan’s 13-year-old daughter Mira, who is thrilled to be a peer buddy and take part in all the activities.
“It shows both sides that the other side is not as scary as they think it is,” Ananthanarayanan said. “It brings a good side out of typically developing children as well, teaching them to be compassionate, kind and to accept everybody.”
The Blue Roses girls is made up currently of about 40 regulars, ages 8 through 18. Most of the girls are in the 10-14-year-old age range.
The group of girls meets once a month for different activities, such as horseback riding or a visit to a local farm. Individuals are encouraged to meet up on their own as well. Through May, the activities revolve around practice sessions for the fashion show. Blue Roses then offers a summer camp in July, a Halloween party, and an annual holiday tea party in December.
“We get the parents involved and we stress that ‘It’s your organization,’ everyone can share an idea with what we should do as we want to include all of the girls’ interests,” Ananthanarayanan said. “I’ve only heard good things from families. They always say ‘I can’t believe my daughter is doing this.’”
The group has volunteer speech and occupational therapists that work with the girls at their meet-ups, as well as a volunteer applied behavior analyst from the organization Let’s Grow Together, and even a volunteer Zumba instructor who gets the girls moving and dancing.
Ananthanarayanan said all three moms have high standards for their daughters and all of the Blue Roses Girls — they want them to build friendships, have a social life into adulthood and maybe discover a passion that could lead to a career choice.
“You never know what’s going to click with a child. We want to expose them to other things in the world so they can see what their choices are,” Ananthanarayanan said. “We make sure everything is toned down, mellowed out and that the girls can try things at their own pace. We’re trying to teach them that their disability does not limit them from being able to pursue their dreams.”
Ananthanarayanan’s daughter Maya was 10 when she joined and was very much a “tomboy.” During her first fashion show experience, picking out a high-heeled shoe to wear in the show, she became totally mesmerized and walked around in her new heels for two days straight.
“Exposing her to that fashion world, she found her feminine side,” Ananthanarayanan said.
Now at 12, Maya loves getting dressed up. She loves makeup, shoes and jewelry.
“If it’s not high heels she won’t wear it,” Ananthanarayanan said.
Ananthanarayanan said that the organization has been life-changing for all three founders and that is what keeps them going.
“For me, it’s the most rewarding when new moms come in and see for the first time their daughters are interacting and they’re in tears because they’re happy and it’s a relief to finally find something that works because there really isn’t anyone out there doing what we’re doing,” Fletcher said.
She said it’s rewarding when a new girl joins and can go from not even wanting to enter the room to not wanting to miss any outing.
“You see growth in the girls and it happens so, so quickly,” Fletcher said.
The summer camp, Camp DOLLS (Discovering Ourselves and Loving Life Sisterhood), is a five-day, sensory-friendly day camp that runs from July 7-11 at the Rancho Bernardo Recreation Center. Every camp day has a different activity, including performing arts and yoga, cooking classes, flower arranging, flip flop decorating and tie-dye shirt making, an outdoor fitness day, and a recreation day at Belmont Park to play mini golf, arcade games and laser tag.
To purchase tickets for Celebration of Style, register for Camp DOLLS or for more information on how to get involved with Blue Roses Girls, visit bluerosesgirls.com