Special needs students get ready to walk down the runway


Thirteen-year-old Madison Tevlin, a former Zareinu Educational Centre student with Down syndrome, has defied the odds, as very few people with Down syndrome are ever able to sing.

Madison has earned her place in the spotlight, though, with more than seven million hits on her YouTube channel, a song recorded with Cody Simpson and O.A.R., and a live performance at the Special Olympics.

Madison’s story is one of inspiration, dedication, passion, and effort – words that can also be applied to the staff and students of Zareinu.

Madison’s mother, Grace Tevlin, said that when Madison was born, doctors told her “She may talk, she may not.” From that moment on, Grace made communication a priority in Madison’s life, and “Zareinu was a tremendous help in this process,” she said.

Madison will be a keynote speaker and model in the 12th annual Zareinu Fashion Show, whose theme this year is Luxe and Glamour. It will be held Nov. 10 at Bellvue Manor in Vaughan.

Hosted by fashion icon Jeanne Beker, it will feature professional models alongside special-needs Zareinu students who will all take to the catwalk and model exclusive collections from a variety of prestigious Canadian and international designers, including Ines DiSanto, Ross Mayer, Versace, Strellson and Town Shoes.

The show is an opportunity for Zareinu children to shine in their own unique ways. There’s never a dry eye in the house as guests cheer on these mini champions who have each overcome their own challenges to proudly strut, walk or wheel down the runway.

Zareinu is a school and treatment centre for children with physical and developmental challenges. For more than 25 years, it’s provided individualized evidence-based programs to hundreds of students with special needs in supportive learning environments.

12th annual Zareinu Fashion Show
12th annual Zareinu Fashion Show

Two-year-old Zareinu student Darwin Joseph will be making her way down the runway with help from her father. Darwin has Prader-Willi syndrome (PWS), a genetic disorder that occurs in approximately one out of every 15,000 births. Its common characteristics include small hands and feet, abnormal growth and body composition (small stature, very low lean body mass, and early-onset childhood obesity), weak muscles at birth, insatiable hunger and intellectual disability.

“Darwin came to Zareinu when she was about 10 months old. She didn’t move. She couldn’t keep her trunk – torso – up and she couldn’t put any weight on her legs,” Zareinu’s head physiotherapist, Ester Fink, told The CJN.

“Postural control or the ability to pull against gravity and maintain the body in space is necessary for the development of movement. Darwin, because of low muscle tone, could not resist gravity, so she couldn’t stand or move in space. We worked on her trunk control, or the ability to hold herself up, without support. As she gained trunk control, we held her only by the legs and carefully moved her legs to challenge her ability to maintain her balance in space. And only after she developed some balance did she start moving on her own.”

Therapy includes giving parents a structured home program. “We videotape and practise at school so the parents feel confident at home,” Fink said.

Darwin Joseph as a flower girl at her aunt's wedding this past summer
Darwin Joseph as a flower girl at her aunt’s wedding this past summer

“Zareinu has changed Darwin’s world, my world and our outlook as to what we think Darwin can accomplish in life. Zareinu showed us that Darwin will walk, be potty trained and go to school. It was very hard to believe that in the darkest times right after the diagnosis,” said her father, Mark Joseph.

Proceeds from this year’s fashion show will support Zareinu’s goal to expand community-based services.

“Our expansion of Zareinu classrooms in the Jewish day school system, for instance, can lead to an increase in opportunities for student to be included in the mainstream of that system,” said spokesperson Jenna Greenberg.