For more reasons than one, Kristi Brown might be less than stoic on Friday night when her 12-year-old daughter parades the makeshift runway at Grove City Church of the Nazarene.

For more reasons than one, Kristi Brown might be less than stoic on Friday night when her 12-year-old daughter parades the makeshift runway at Grove City Church of the Nazarene.

Yes, she expects Elizabeth to look beautiful in her sparkly lime-green dress during Nellie’s Catwalk for Kids, a fashion show and fundraiser.

But the emotions of the Pickerington mom will inevitably run much deeper.

“It brings tears to my eyes to see how far she’s come,” she said.

Twice in her brief life, Elizabeth has battled cancer: After the original diagnosis of bone cancer in 2006, at age 5, she underwent multiple surgeries and chemotherapy — and seemed to have beaten the disease. But a relapse in 2008, in her left lung, required another operation.

Cancer-free for almost five years, the seventh-grader at Lakeview Junior High School will model in the fashion show and serve as one of three hosts.

In its six-year history, Nellie’s Catwalk — founded by a 16-year-old — has raised more than $500,000 to directly help central Ohio families dealing with pediatric cancer.

“You have the worry (at the hospital) of not only your sick child but of rent and food,” said Brown, who wasn’t aware of the group when her daughter was sick but encourages Elizabeth and her 7-year-old daughter, Madison, to participate as a way to support other families.

“Everybody now wants to raise money for a cure, for treatment, but it (the assistance) needs to be more immediate.”

A special tribute

As a high-school sophomore enamored of fashion, Nellie Krumlauf in 2007 was looking for a simple way to honor her grandmother, who had died of lung cancer when Nellie was 7.

She organized a fashion show featuring 25 models (most of them friends). The event drew 200 people and raised $3,000.

Though elated by the success, Krumlauf said, she couldn’t have imagined what lay ahead.

On Friday, the 2013 Nellie’s Catwalk — with a glow-in-the-dark theme — will showcase 200 models ages 5 to 25. More than 80 hairstylists and makeup artists from the Ohio Academy Paul Mitchell Partner School — all of whom donated their services — will be on hand to make the children runway-ready.

Columbus-area restaurants have donated food for the expected 3,000 guests, and a volunteer disc jockey and production company are helping with the entertainment.

With those contributions as well as various sponsorships, organizers hope to top the $200,000 raised last year through ticket sales, models’ pledge campaigns, merchandise sales and patron donations.

Many of the models, who represent 88 area schools, have a connection to cancer — as a patient, survivor or sibling of a patient or survivor.

Others just want to support the cause.

A young inspiration

Although her grandmother inspired the inaugural Nellie’s Catwalk, Krumlauf credits Eden Adams with its enduring success.

That first year, the 7-year-old from New Albany was the only model fighting cancer (a neuroblastoma).

“She came up to me after the show and said, ‘That was so much fun, and I can’t wait until next year,’??” Krumlauf recalled.

The event had given Eden a delightful reprieve from hospitals, chemotherapy and doctor appointments.

Krumlauf hosted the event the next year, but Eden was too ill to participate. A few months later, the girl died.

“Being at a child’s funeral was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do,” Krumlauf said. “ I thought, ‘OK, Eden, we can do this.’ I wanted it to be more.”

Carrying the memory of Eden with her, Krumlauf eventually sought a nonprofit status for Nellie’s Catwalk and has hired two full-time employees and a part-time summer staff. She graduated in the spring from Ohio Dominican University with a degree in public relations and a minor in nonprofit management, aiming to devote her life to reaching more children like Eden.

Besides Columbus, the organization hosts fashion shows in Cincinnati; Cleveland; Kent, Ohio; and Richmond, Ky. In September, Krumlauf plans to visit 11 other cities to promote awareness of pediatric cancer.

“It was going to be a one-time thing, but there were so many plans ahead of me, and I had no idea.”

A family in need

Nellie’s Catwalk provides help on a case-by-case basis, identifying needy families through social workers at area hospitals.

To date, hundreds of families have received ongoing assistance — including that of Velvet Williams of Nelsonville.

In 2010, Williams learned that the nephew in her custody — Jarrod Raver, 3 at the time — had leukemia.

The mother of two boys of her own hasn’t worked steadily since.

“When you’re not working,” she said, “it’s hard to save any money.”

Learning of Williams’ challenges, Nellie’s Catwalk bought beds for her sons — Jarrod was still in a toddler bed, and her sons’ beds lacked frames — and, at Christmastime, baskets of gifts.

Williams borrowed a relative’s car to take Jarrod to treatments, but, without a car of her own, she struggled to find permanent work and keep up with her family’s busy schedule.

More recently, with Jarrod’s final chemotherapy treatment approaching and his health improving, the organization gave her a van (a 1999 Toyota Sienna in good condition) and a gas card, and paid six months of her auto insurance.

She has since found a job as a gas-station cashier.

“We need to get back on track as a family — back to work and back to normal,” she said.Jarrod will turn 6 on Monday.

“I am so grateful for everything they have done,” she said. “I am getting emotional just talking about it.”

A helpful desire

Hannah Lewis can’t wait to “pump up” the audience before and during the fashion show on Friday night.

The 12-year-old cancer survivor knows the importance of her job as a host. (The third co-host will be Rylee Cavins, a 13-year-old cancer survivor from Marysville.)

“We’re there to get the audience comfortable and not force them to love the organization but tell them what we do,” said Hannah, a seventh-grader at New Albany Middle School.

Her love for the organization is unmistakable.

“I got to know more people who had what I had, instead of the kids at school,” said Hannah, who is participating in her sixth fashion show. “I would come here and could talk normally about things that aren’t so normal.”

Maddi Webb, who has enjoyed good health, was drawn to the fundraiser four years ago through a friend who had modeled in a show.

The 13-year-old, who lives in Glenford in Perry County, decided that she, too, wanted to help families of children with pediatric cancer.

Along with participating in her fourth show this year, Maddi has pledged to raise $500 for Nellie’s Catwalk — including $100 of her own money, earned through the 4-H program.

“I wanted to make more of a difference,” she said. “It’s so sad that little children have to go through this and they don’t have a choice.”


©2013 The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio)

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