Pageant friends Alyssa Lego and Amanda Witkowski are creating a movement with three simple words: Shop. Sell. Strut! Since 2017, these two friends have been organizing fashion shows in collaboration with nonprofits like Autism NJ and the Morgan Marie Michael Foundation to raise awareness and funds for autistic youth in their communities.
Alyssa and Amanda are shining examples of turning what you love into service for others. Their curiosity sparked a passion for volunteering, and today they are combining that passion with their love of pageants and fashion. Age does not determine impact, and these two inspiring changemakers are proof that you’re never too young to make a difference.
We spoke with Amanda to learn more about Shop. Sell. Strut! and what motivates her and Alyssa to Strut for Autism.
What inspired you to start Strut for Autism?
Both Alyssa and I were doing projects related to autism awareness and fundraising. For me, it started out as a curiosity. I knew my backyard neighbor had autism, a few cousins and a boy around the block, but none of them seemed to be the same. I am a skater, and the first time my rink held an autism-related event I realized there were kids in wheelchairs, some with walkers, some who would not speak and others who kept singing. That is when I got very curious about what I learned to be a spectrum disorder with a wide range of variations, and I took on an awareness program as part of my Girl Scout Gold Award.
Meanwhile, I knew Alyssa from pageants. We thought we could maybe do something together at some point. The earliest idea was that we wanted to sell off our pageant wardrobes to buy new gowns and appearance clothes. So we toyed with the idea of a shopping and selling event. Then we thought to add in a fashion show with it. Next thing we knew we had Shop. Sell. Strut!, a fashion extravaganza.
We were working on Shop. Sell. Strut!, and at one point wanted to use social media to share statistics and let people know this was more than a fashion show. We wrote up the basics and tied it to the reason we were strutting for autism. The catchphrase became “I Strut for Autism,” and we started using a hashtag #istrutforautism to build up interest. We started making flyers for the team and the one for our MC drew some celebrity attention. We service marked the “I Strut For” and hope to help others deploy projects for their causes.
What have you learned through your experience starting Shop. Sell. Strut! and I Strut for Autism?
It takes a lot of thought, communication, time, people, some startup money and just continuous attention. It is OK to make mistakes, everything is fixable and there are a lot of people who will help others, so involve many people!
What is your favorite memory from your work on this program?
There are a lot. I think the day of the event I was a little overwhelmed and almost didn’t know how we got there. We had adapted an idea from Autism New Jersey, which we are ambassadors for, which was a tree with puzzle pieces as leaves. Alyssa’s father built us a tree on a trade show display. Our team had traced puzzle pieces on colored poster paper and all of the models, audience, vendors, etc., could sign a piece and put it on the tree. My favorite memory was watching the tree grow all day throughout the event. It was so symbolic of our growth, the spreading awareness and the community coming together.
Where would you like to see Shop. Sell. Strut! and I Strut for Autism in five years?
After Shop. Sell. Strut! last April, we hosted a smaller event for little girls called Shop. Sell. Strut! Tea and Me. Our theme was #littlegirlsstrutforautismtoo. The idea is to involve kids early in acceptance of those who have special needs. We also formed a foundation to raise funds to provide iPads and software as learning appliances to children on the autism spectrum. In five years, I dream that we will be well established enough to ensure that anyone who needs support can receive it, and also that we can start to do projects for aging out youth who need help to live independently or in groups.
Why do you think it is important for others to get involved and make a difference in their community?
Isn’t that our obligation as citizens? I’ve walked, ran, danced and skated for many causes. As a Girl Scout, I got started with collections for the local food pantry in the first grade. We simply have to take care of others when they need support. It doesn’t take a lot of effort, and if everyone does a little it will help a lot.
How can people support Strut for Autism?
There are a few ways to help. Follow the Morgan, Marie, Michael Foundation and Shop. Sell. Strut! on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and share what we are doing. Buy a ticket to an event, or make a small donation. Let us help plan your event. Results equal more iPads and software. I Strut for Autism, do you?