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Foster grandparents to flaunt PATHS fashions in Portland

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Foster grandparents to flaunt PATHS fashions in Portland

PORTLAND — Fran Seeley never thought she would be a model, nor did she particularly care to be.

But on Thursday, April 8, the 68-year-old will strut her stuff on the catwalk as part of the Collections 2010 Fashion Show, an annual exhibition of designs from students at Portland Arts and Technology High School.

Seeley is one of 50 people 55 years old or older who volunteer in Portland schools through the Foster Grandparent Program sponsored by the People's Regional Opportunity Program.

PATHS fashion and marketing teacher Jane Krasnow said this year's show will highlight inter-generational fashion, while raising awareness of and money for PROP's program. 

The show will also be a tribute to Linda Angel, the schools' foster grandparent coordinator for 20 years, who died last December at 51 after a prolonged battle with cancer.

Krasnow said it is fitting to dedicate this year's show to Angel, who she described as funny and welcoming – the type of person you always wanted to be with.

"She wasn't much older than me, but I wanted her to be my grandmother," Krasnow said.

Susan Lavigne, director of PROP's senior volunteer program, said the Foster Grandparent Program has been in Portland schools since 1977. Seniors spend about 20 hours a week in classrooms under the supervision of teachers to build meaningful relationships with students and help them with their homework.

The national program was started in 1966 by then-President Lyndon B. Johnson as part of the "War on Poverty."  

Seeley said she decided to become a foster grandparent about 10 years ago and credits the program with keeping her mentally sharp and engaged in the community.

"When my husband died I was at a loose end," she said. "(The program) has been a God-send to me. It's given me purpose."

Seeley volunteers at Lyseth Elementary School for about 40 hours a week, twice as much as the minimum 20-hour a week requirement.

She said she is honored to be able to pay tribute to Angel, who introduced her to the program. Angel's presence will be felt on Thursday, she said.

"Nobody could get me down the runway but Linda Angel," Seeley said. "I know she is going to be looking down, laughing at me. But that's OK."

Autumn Clukey, 16, of South Portland, said she really enjoyed working with Seeley this year. Not only was Seeley a good model for her designs, but she was always ready with a big hug that could turn the day around.

"She reminds me a lot of my grandmother," said Clukey, whose grandparents have died.

Clukey said she is both excited and nervous about the fashion show. But she expects Seeley and the two other foster grandparents to bring down the house when they strut down the catwalk, wearing the students' original designs.

"The crowd's going to love her," she said. "It's really awesome to see her get into this. She's such a ray of sunshine."

Lavigne said dispelling the myth that seniors prefer to be idle and scorn having a good time is one of the goals of the program.

"This just blows that image out of the water," she said. "It's great."

Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or rbillings@theforecaster.net