It’s a rainy Sunday afternoon, but there’s a little sunshine inside the Ozanam Inn. As the DJ plays a fun, smooth beat, the crowd waits in excitement. Hues of pink and purple fill the room and stone lights decorate a makeshift runway path down the food hall. 

But those strutting down the runway aren’t your typical models. They are individuals in the Ozanam Inn’s supportive services program.

The Ozanam Inn is a nonprofit organization that provides food, shelter and other supportive services to homeless people in New Orleans. In 2022 the organization said it served 120,000 meals to 2,000 people, offered shelter to more than 1,200 experiencing homelessness, helped 75 people move into permanent housing and provided health care to more than 350 individuals at their on-site clinics. 

Inspired by the lives of those who stay in the shelter, the fashion show was created to bring awareness to homelessness and raise money to help those seeking permanent housing and provide resources for clothing and essentials. 

The fashion show attracted staff, family, friends and others in the program, who gathered to cheer on their peers who were dressed to impress.

It was a moment to remember. Bridget Hill, 54, said she never felt good or beautiful enough to do something like this before volunteering to be in the fashion show.

“I’ve never done anything like walking in front of a lot of people for any kind of fashion show, and I’ve probably been in the spotlight more than I realized,” she said. 

Hill hit the runway twirling around for the audience, showing the self-confidence she didn’t know she had. A big smile came across her face as she posed in her white dress with black lace and a glitter black clutch to match. The applause and cheers reminded her of what she valued most, “family and my babies,” Hill said with tears in her eyes.

The idea for the Ozanam Inn fashion show was sparked by 24-year-old Jourdasia Jones, who works as a communications specialist at Ozanam. She saw the emotional toll that living in the homeless shelter had on those she encountered daily and wanted to do something out of the ordinary to “ have a night for them to be in the spotlight,” she said. 

“I really wanted something to boost morale in the shelter, give them something different than their day-to-day lives, because they work really hard here at the Oz,” said Jones, who has had years of modeling experience and also participated in the show.

The event was sponsored by the Salvation Army and the Mardi Gras carnival supply store Plush. 

The Ozanam models were able to choose their clothes from the Salvation Army, selecting pieces that catered to their personal style. Jones helped to coordinate each of their looks with each participant choosing two outfits and accessories. 

Rennie Smith, who has been in the program since September, said he volunteered to model in the show, to “get away from the monotony and break away to do something special.”

Jones was helped by other staff members like Domonick Hayes, a peer support specialist at the Ozanam Inn. Hayes’ catering company, Express Catering Services, provided free food for the event.

Hayes has seen the homeless shelter residents at their most vulnerable and said “seeing them all dressed up and made up, it warms my heart.” 

Ozanam Inn stage crew member James Ashley, 54, steps into the spotlight as a model in the organization’s fashion show. Credit: Nigell Moses

James Ashley, 54, was ecstatic to be a part of the show. Before he entered the shelter three months ago, he had “worked backstage in security for major celebrity concerts,” he said. So joining the stage crew at Ozanam was a natural fit. Ashley also got a makeover. His new loafer shoes were his favorite part of the ensemble.

Dressed in a black suit with a white button-down shirt, Jerome Sorupia, 49, made his way down the runway with Hill. As they walked in unison in their business attire, Sorupia paused and looked at the crowd, unbuttoning his blazer to show off his tailored white shirt.

“I feel excited to be in the fashion show, it feels good wearing an expensive watch,” said Sorupia, who has been at Ozanam since last April. He said he felt bold and present.

As the models strolled down the runway for their last walk, the food hall filled with bravos and encouragement. Jones said the Ozanam Inn plans to host a fashion show every 90 days throughout the year and hopes that the success of the first show will draw more people to participate.

“I really want this to be a continuing fundraiser because they enjoy it,” Jones said of the fashion show. “So I want this to become a regular thing, like the Ozanam Inn is throwing another fashion show for the homeless, another big charity event,” she said.

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Nigell Moses

New Orleans native Nigell Moses graduated summa cum laude from Xavier University of Louisiana with a bachelor’s degree in Mass Communication. She is a published contributing writer, with stories in The...