Helping young people discover, pursue and flourish in their creativity is the mission behind VMAX for One Community, Inc.
“We understand creative arts come in all forms and fashions,” says Vonda Parker, who co-founded the 501 (c) (3) organization with husband Max in 2017.
“Max and I realized there is a different type of creative arts in every person,” notes Vonda. “The vision of this organization is to serve and offer mentoring and education classes through our creative arts programs. Our goal is to assist each student with an ideal way of developing a form of expressing themselves through the Art of Fashion Creative Arts.”
VMAX hits close to home for the Parkers.
Vonda is the owner of Bella Faire, an event and wedding planning business in Lake County. With a background in marketing and outreach, she has over two decades of experience in property management and event/wedding planning. She served as an advisory board member for Sanford-Brown College in Florida (formerly known as the International Academy of Design and Technology).
Max spent 32 years in Florida law enforcement, starting with the Tampa Police Department. He retired as the Deputy Chief of the Leesburg Police Department in January 2017.
He was inducted into the Florida State Boxing Hall of Fame in 2009 and retired as a world-class professional boxing referee in 2012.
The Parkers have always had a passion to help youth. VMAX combines that with Vonda’s expertise in the fashion world.
“Not all youth are into sports or art, but we still need to tap into their creativity. We know fashion can bring this out of some young people,” says Vonda.
That’s where VMAX comes into play.
“Creative arts come in all forms, gifts and talents, so the program is open to anyone with a creative mindset,” says Vonda.
And that includes youth with intellectual developmental disabilities.
The two-year Art of Fashion program started in 2018 and is open to male and female students ages 5 to 30. Each six-month semester runs from October to June. Classes are held in the dance studio at Lake Square Mall.
Classes are offered in three categories: basic, intermediate/advanced, and professional. As students graduate one level, they move on to the next. Students learn runway modeling, fashion design and retail visual merchandising, swimwear design and character (acting) from industry professionals referred to as “coaches.”
Classes are kept small to enhance the learning experience – no more than 25 students per semester. The program is funded by donations, enrollment fees and a grant from the City of Leesburg.
“It’s an educational mentoring program for the creative arts and fashion industry,” explains Vonda.
In addition to learning about fashion, students gain confidence, self-esteem, discipline and self-respect. They also develop time management, etiquette, grooming and personal skills as they explore their inner creativity.
This year, the youngest student is 5 and the oldest is 22.
“It doesn’t matter their age, some of the young ones can progress to the professional level. This year, we’re featuring a 10-year-old fashion designer at the 12th Annual Fashion Runway Showcase in December who is traveling around the world,” notes Vonda.
“We’ve seen shy students turn into fashion kings and queens. Max and I pride ourselves on how they progress in the program. Seeing them transform from a shy child to a bright butterfly on the runway is amazing,” she adds.
“By the end of the two-year program, we help them get to where they want to be, whether that is working in print ad modeling or design, or whatever aspect of the fashion world they want to go. We start marketing their profile for them,” says Vonda.
“We also do a traveling runway show each year with students from the program,” she adds.
The traveling runway shows were staged in Augusta, Georgia and New Orleans.