Tampa Connect Fashion Week: Where fashion meets philanthropy

Fifteen-year-old Jacinda wears her black, rhinestone, jacket adorned with blue, yellow, and green paint. She holds up a matching pair of polka-dotted pants.

On March 8th, Jacinda will strut down the runway in her handmade outfit during the first-ever  Tampa Connect Fashion Week. The newly launched event mixes fashion with philanthropy, with three days of runway shows at three separate Bay Area venues. The shows showcase local designers and benefit the Tampa Heights Junior Civic Association (THJCA), a nonprofit dedicated to bettering the lives of at-risk youth in Tampa. 

“We provide what we call ‘wrap-around services,’ meaning we wrap our arms around a child’s entire life to make sure they’re successful,” says Naya Young, executive director of THJCA.

Tampa Heights Junior Civic Association Executive Director Naya YoungThose services include in-school programs, behavioral therapy, youth entrepreneurship training and more. THJCA has been helping kids in the community for over 26 years and its community center, located at 2005 N Lamar Ave, is a thriving hub of activity.

From meditation to art to gardening, the organization consistently explores holistic ways to support child development. This year, THJCA has partnered with local creatives and Visit Tampa Bay to explore the world of fashion and launch Tampa Connect Fashion Week..

As part of the three-day event, THJCA will showcase its fashion line, which Jacinda and other teens and children in the program designed with the help of local creatives. Designers, creatives and even model coaches from all over Tampa Bay came together with the kids of THJCA to bring this youth-designed fashion line to life. The youth in the program spent weeks learning how to design, sew, paint and model.

“The kids actually worked with designers,” Young says. “They learned the different steps of design, having your own brand and everything that goes into it. It's taking their vision from paper and bringing it to life,” says Young. 
For some of them, like Jacinda, it has been an exciting way of discovering their passion. 

“I’m so happy because they gave us the opportunity to show what we can do in front of a whole bunch of people,” she says.“I told my mom that I want a sewing machine. I want to sew my own clothes." Jacinda models an outfit she designed for Tampa Connect Fashion Week's Community Youth Fashion Walk.

In the future, she dreams of creating her own fashion line. 

The fashion show is not only a way for the children to express their creativity, but it also acts as a fundraiser for the program. A portion of ticket sales goes straight back into THJCA. 

Naya Young encourages anyone who feels moved by the program or wants to get more involved in the community to reach out.

“We’re always looking for volunteers and sponsors,” she says. We always welcome new ideas.”

The youth fashion line is part of the Tampa Connect Fashion Week event scheduled for 7 p.m. Friday, March 8th at the THJCA Community Center. The weekend shows are 6 p.m. Saturday, March 9th at The Factory, St. Pete and 6 p.m. Sunday, March 10th at The Cuban Club in Ybor City.

For more information and tickets, go to Tampa Connect Fashion Week.
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Read more articles by Tashie Tierney.

Tashie Tierney has always been an avid storyteller with a dedication of sharing the inspiring humans within this world. Tashie's innate curiosity and affinity of talking to strangers might have stressed out her parents during her childhood, but it ultimately led her down the path of journalism. She graduated the University of South Florida in 2023 with a degree in International Relations and the hopes that it would take her all across the world. When she's not busy writing the latest story, she's probably either traveling, painting, making music, creating videos, or playing with her bunny. Learn more about Tashie at her travel blog or follow her on Instagram @tashies.travels