Connecticut Junior Republic trades house tour for fall fashion show

LITCHFIELD >> For more than 60 years, a house tour hosted the Litchfield Aid of the Connecticut Junior Republic offered ticket holders an insiders’ view to some of the town’s most stately and historic homes. The event, dubbed the Litchfield House Tour, over the years, was held traditionally on the second weekend in July.

Until this year, that is. The Litchfield Aid, a group founded in 1911 to support the efforts of the Connecticut Junior Republic in helping troubled youth find their place in the world, decided to hold a fashion show instead.

That event, High Style in the Hills, takes place Oct. 4 and will feature members, their husbands and other willing participants modeling clothing by designer Bunny Donahue, as well as fashions from Braeval, R. Derwin Clothiers, Ida’s Bridal, Lawrence Jeffrey Estate Jewelry, Lulu Shoes, Oliphant Designs, Robertson’s Jewelers, Savi CC Custom Jackets, Serendipity, Sportsmens and The Workshop.

The decision to move away from the traditional fundraiser is not permanent, and the tour will be held in the future. But members said Tuesday that changes in the Litchfield Aid’s membership and the tour itself made it necessary to rethink the way they raised money to support the school and its programs.

“What happened is, our membership has aged a wee bit, and we lost some volunteerism,” said President Julith Sink. “At the same time, we have a younger group of members who wants to be active, but don’t have the same time available to put into a house tour, which can be very labor intensive. People have jobs, they have families ... it’s a big commitment.”

Hedy Barton, CJR’s director of development, has been involved with the house tour for many years. She received many calls from patrons wondering about the tour this summer.

“One of the impacts on the house tour, over the years, is that we’ve had an enormously loyal list of patrons, and there are people who say they’ve come for 20 or 30 years, so naturally there were a lot of people who were disappointed this year,” she said. “At the same time, it’s been harder for many people to avail themselves and their to the tour; these are private residences, and they’re not always willing to open up their homes for it.”

Attendance has also fallen off over the last 10 years.

“In its day, 1,500 people or more would attend, but last year we had maybe 500,” said event co-chairman and member Pam McCann. “I think if people who came knew it would be taking place in the future, perhaps every other year, or every three years, we might get that (high) attendance again.”

The tour’s preview party, which included a cocktail party and private tours for a higher ticket price the day before the public tours, also impacted attendance.

“That participation built up and people who went on Friday didn’t go on Saturday. That may have had an impact on the tour’s attendance,” McCann said.

So, members of the Litchfield Aid began thinking of alternatives after last year’s tour.

“Several of us, mostly on the executive board of the Litchfield Aid, met for about a year, and we realized a house tour wouldn’t happen,” Sink continued. “We all came up with ideas for a fundraiser, and we were all pretty excited about a fashion show featuring local merchants and models.”

Including Becket by Bunny Donahue was even more exciting for the members.

“Bunny Donahue is a friend of our recording secretary and she asked if Bunny was interested in getting involved. The next thing you know, we’re having lunch at Da Capo (a Litchfield restaurant) and she’s on board,” McCann said. “Her designs are gorgeous.”

Donahue, a resident of Lakeville, works out of New York City. Her website,, states that she is a 20-year veteran in the fashion industry, “boasts a resume that includes brand names such as: Diane Von Furstenberg, Pierre Cardin Knitwear, Tahari, Ellen Tracy and Jones New York. Bunny created the Becket label in response to the outcry from women seeking a dress not only stylish but also classically tailored with a contemporary design that is both flattering and comfortable. Becket has it all: style, comfort, versatility, and classic beauty. Bunny will launch the Becket label with a collection of beautiful dresses designed and printed on rayon matte jersey and rayon ponte knit fabrics for her inaugural Fall 2014 line.”

Having the designer on board meant the group would gain her expertise as well as her fashions for the shop. But Sink and McCann stressed that their ultimate goal is to involve the community fully, and to help more people understand what the Connecticut Junior Republic is, what it does and how they can help.

“With this new event we want to involve more of the community,” McCann said. “So why not use local retailers and merchants? The stores are very excited about participating.”

Models will include members and their husbands, as well as CJR staff and a few surprise guests, Sink and McCann said.

“We’re extremely lucky to have, as our emcee, a wonderful guy who is president of Point One Percent, a branding agency, Alexander Duckworth,” McCann said. “He has that really nice English accent, and he’ll win over everyone who attends. And along with him we’re extremely lucky to have his wife, Gina, who is director of Next Models in New York City, which is the third largest agency in New York, and she’s also helping us manage the whole show. She’s a professional and she’s helping us. That’s important. This is a new venture for us.”

High Style in the Hills will also feature a live auction with “some pretty spectacular items,” Sink said. “We have some pretty special getaways to assorted places, and a Honda motorscooter, which will be presented on the runway. We’re still expecting some more great items.”

Donors and sponsors are still welcome to get involved, Sink said.

Behind the excitement and planning of High Style in the Hills, the Litchfield Aid wants to bring the town together.

“Litchfield is a community that has the potential for all to get together and work for one good cause,” McCann said.

Tickets to High Style in the Hills will be sold via the Litchfield Aid of CJR’s website,, and are anticipated to be available for purchase in by August. Participation is limited and prompt reservations are advised. Donors and sponsors are also invited to participate.

To request an invitation or for further information about donating or sponsoring this fundraiser, contact the Connecticut Junior Republic Development Office at 860-567-9423, ext. 278, or

Those interested in becoming a member of the Litchfield Aid of the Connecticut Junior Republic can contact Julith Sink at or call 860-361-6121.

The Litchfield Aid’s support to CJR is vital. Barton explained that the role of the Connecticut Junior Republic is larger in the immediate area — including Litchfield, Torrington and other communities, is growing all the time. Along with the nonprofit’s two residential programs on the Litchfield campus for boys with substance abuse problems and the result of crisis intervention, CJR runs group homes in Winchester, East Hartford and Waterbury, and a fourth program is opening in Manchester. Another program for children, youth and families is about to begin in Litchfield County, and CJR works with families in Danbury and Torrington. Both residential programs in Litchfield, with eight boys in each, have a waiting list.

“We have kids in the daytime programs who come (to the Litchfield campus) after school and in the summertime,” Barton said. “They work on the farm here; they work in the garden, and they can take culinary arts classes here.

“CJR is alive and well,” Barton continued. “We expect that we’ll serve more than 2,500 children, youth and families this year, which is significantly more than a few years ago. The boys who live on our campus are coming to us with substance abuse problems in addition to an array of other issue, and they are referred to us by the courts. The other group we have are for boys from a crisis intervention. They’re with us for a shorter term. We find out how they can be helped, and we make sure the family can receive the services they need. We conduct intensive work with the families so when the boys return to their homes and communities, we arrange services for them in the community. Sometimes we work with boys and their families at home, if it’s a situation where it’s better for them to stay at home. Depending on where they live, they might be supported by us in another continuum of care.”

CJR’s Torrington office, Barton said, serves more than 200 boys and girls each year.

“That will increase in the coming year,” she said. “With early intervention and prevention, we try to help them stay at home and in school.”

Another program is called SAFE: Success Always Follows Education, which helps children and youth make responsible choices with a focus on education and careers.

“We help children learn to avoid situations that put them at risk,” Barton said. ““That could be teen pregnancy, violence, arrests, drugs ... those types of situations. We can go into a home and work with the whole family. The whole idea is to catch problems as or before they occur, and avoid the juvenile court system.”

The residential programs in Litchfield have seen a rise in children in the autism spectrum — about 30 percent to date, Barton said.

“For example, if a boy is having trouble in his public school, he comes here,” she said. “We’ve been very successful integrating our farm, our culinary arts program, with our residential and daytime students. They are referred by the schools or the courts. We’re very pleased to be able to share our campus resources with children right here in the community.”

The organization is also opening several wellness centers throughout the state including the Litchfield campus.

“We will be able to provide mental heath services to children and families in this area,” Barton said. “There might be a student who’s having issues with his family, and he could see a clinician associated with our wellness center.”

CJR was founded by Litchfield resident Mary Buell who was inspired by the words of a local pastor who told her there was a need to help young boys in trouble. She bequeathed her farm, her estate and $5,000 to start the Connecticut Junior Republic. Its doors opened to 12 boys in 1904, and the Litchfield Aid was established in 1911.

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