Dress Up for Downs begins a pen pal program during COVID

Genevieve struts down the runway during the Dress Up for Downs fashion show in the Rockwell Hall on Saturday, November 18, 2017.

Bella Hagey Reporter

After a long day at school, one member of Kent State’s Dress Up for Downs organization returned home to find the first letter written by her pen pal.

Genevieve Burke took the letter from her mom and eagerly read all of what her pen pal wrote to her.

As a person with Down syndrome, Genevieve has had trouble finding clothes that fit her correctly. However, being a member of Dress Up for Downs, she is usually able to work with fashion students to solve that problem.

Dress Up for Downs is a student-run organization centered around local individuals with Down syndrome, working with them to create clothing that will fit their body type.

“The fact that an internationally known fashion school has decided to form a student group that addresses that issue is very important to me as a parent,” said Leslie Burke, Genevieve Burke’s mom. 

Traditionally, Dress Up for Downs puts on an annual fashion show featuring the models in their new clothes. Because of COVID-19 restrictions, it was unable to do so this year.

This semester, the organization decided to take a different route and started a pen pal program, in which students from Kent State are matched with the locals. 

“We were like, how do we get our students and our older models and people that we’ve had before connected and make them feel like they’re still involved in Dress Up for Downs even without coming to Kent?” said Katelyn Overla, the group’s president and a senior fashion merchandising major. “So that was kind of where the pen pal program actually grew.”

The organization wanted to make the entire experience personal for the kids involved in the program and while they are not meeting with students in person, they still have a chance to communicate with them.

“So instead of just doing letters for our first letter, we added in photos so that they could get to see each other and actually put a face to the name,” Overla said. “There was talk before about doing emails, but again, we want it to feel very personalized and make it feel like you’re actually having that connection with the person.”

Genevieve received a stick figure drawing of her pen pal, and sent a few pictures of herself back, Burke said.

“(Genevieve) was very excited when I told her that they were going to be doing this instead of the fashion show,” Burke said. “She was just excited that she would still get to work with college students on it and on a direct level. I have a video of her writing her pen pal back, and we have a video of her mailing the letter at the post office. She was very excited to do that.”

Bella Hagey is a diversity reporter. Contact her at [email protected].


Hi, I’m Lauren Sasala, a senior journalism student from Toledo. I’m also the editor in chief of The Kent Stater and KentWired this semester. My staff and I are committed to bringing you the most important news about Kent State and the Kent community. We are full-time students and hard-working journalists. While we get support from the student media fee and earned revenue such as advertising, both of those continue to decline. Your generous gift of any amount will help enhance our student experience as we grow into working professionals. Please go here to donate.