By Shawn Chitnis

DENVER (CBS4) – The Global Down Syndrome Foundation will host its 11th annual “Be Beautiful, Be Yourself” fashion show on Saturday. It pairs actors and athletes along with models who have Down syndrome. It’s a fundraiser for a variety of programs and initiatives started by the foundation.

“I work hard and play hard,” said Megan Bombgaars, a 2019 recipient of the Quincy Jones Exceptional Advocacy Award.

Megan Bombgaars

Megan Bombgaars (credit: CBS)

Bombgaars is one of the stars on the A&E Emmy winning reality series “Born This Way” and a designer for her own clothing line, Megology. She has also worked the runway for the annual charity event in the past and will be back on stage this year. Organizers say she is an example of the many people with Down syndrome who can do so much more than some people may expect.

“Megan really represents everything Global stands for,” said Michelle Sie Whitten, the president & CEO of the Global Down Syndrome Foundation.

(credit: Global Down Syndrome Foundation)

Her love of fashion and the clothing line she started are only part of what draws her to this event and why the foundation wants to celebrate her contributions. Her work on the cable TV series has also elevated the awareness of people like her who have Down syndrome. From Colorado, she created a video that talked about pushing back against limits people may set on her and it went viral. The foundation has worked with her since high school and leaders say they have enjoyed watching her grow and become an inspiration for others.

“I am the fashion icon so I make things that are happening now,” she told CBS4 in an interview the week before the event. “I’m so excited to strut my stuff with the real ‘McSteamy’ down the runway.”

Each year the star-studded event relies on Hollywood heavyweights and professional players in sports to share the stage with models like Bombgaars. She told CBS4 she cannot wait to meet Eric Dane, the actor well known for his role on “Grey’s Anatomy” and the character nicknamed “McSteamy” on the series.

“Our kids, our adults are just as beautiful and brilliant as a runway model or a Hollywood or sports celebrity,” Whitten said.

The fashion show and fundraiser sets a goal of $2 million that night for the foundation to use on ongoing projects. The organization has relied on its own to bring in money for research and services for several years. But Whitten says they applaud the National Institutes of Health for announcing a significant increase in funding earlier this year.

Actor Jeremy Renner walks the runway with Walt Snodgrass and Charlotte Fonfara LaRose at the Global Down Syndrome Foundation 10th Anniversary BBBY fashion show at Sheraton Denver Downtown Hotel on Oct. 20, 2018.

Actor Jeremy Renner walks the runway with Walt Snodgrass and Charlotte Fonfara LaRose at the Global Down Syndrome Foundation 10th Anniversary BBBY fashion show at Sheraton Denver Downtown Hotel on Oct. 20, 2018. (credit: Tom Cooper/Getty Images for Global Down Syndrome Foundation)

More than a decade later, awareness is still a challenge for the foundation even with its annual event. Down syndrome also remains one of the lowest funded genetic conditions by the NIH. But Whitten says a clinical trial will be funded next year. She is also excited about work happening at the Mental Wellness Clinic at the Down Syndrome Medical Center, supported in part by the money they raise at the fashion show.

“This is was unheard of just five years ago. So we’ve come along way,” Whitten said.

The Sie Center helps 1800 patients and also relies on money from this event to support their work. “Be Beautiful, Be Yourself” is once again sold out and will feature 23 models including Bomgaars. The award she is receiving will also be presented by Quincy Jones himself on Saturday.

“I love it, it’s an honor,” she said.

LINK: Be Beautiful Be Yourself Fashion Show

Shawn Chitnis

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