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Members of Extra Special People at UGA pose at Tailgate in Athens, Georgia on Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2019. The AEO Foundation and Tailgate presented ESP with a donation of $5,000. (Photo/Taylor Gerlach)

Georgia’s loss against South Carolina on Oct. 12 came with a silver lining: students showed support for Extra Special People at UGA by “Dressing Down with the Dawgs.” While it is common to dress nicely for football games in the south, ESP encouraged fans to dress casually to promote awareness of Down syndrome.

On Tuesday evening Dec. 10, Tailgate Athens presented ESP with a $5,000 donation. Located in downtown Athens, the casual clothing store designed “Dress Down with the Dawgs” shirts to support the nonprofit for the Oct. 12 game. Tailgate’s parent company — American Eagle Outfitters — donated the money from its AEO Foundation.

According to its website, ESP aims to “create opportunities for people with disabilities and their families to engage, connect, and thrive.” The individuals the organization serves live with a variety of different conditions, including Down syndrome to autism to spina bifida.

The location in Athens is one of the few Tailgates that stem from American Eagle Outfitters, which helped in the donation process.

Coordinator of Communications for ESP Katarina Christmann expressed her gratitude that Tailgate turned to its parent company for support and “took that extra step for” ESP’s cause.

Tailgate involves itself in the local Athens community by supporting organizations such as ESP, store manager Shantel Haines said. ESP was especially appealing to the company because the idea of the Dress Down program fits well with Tailgate’s casual Georgia graphic tees, Haines said.

This is the second year Tailgate has supported ESP. Last year, the organization worked with ESP to promote “Dress Down.” This year, however, UGA’s chapter of the organization headed up the initiative. Haines said she noticed more student involvement this year, while last year was mostly supported by the people served by the organization and their families.

According to ESP at UGA President Daniela Conroy, ESP at UGA was founded to further ESP’s reach at UGA. Conroy said that after last year, ESP members realized “it made so much sense to have ESP at UGA leading the charge” because it is an on-campus initiative.

Beyond ESP, Haines said the store is always looking for ways to give back to the community through percentage nights, shopping parties or shirt sales similar to ESP’s.

“We are a small company that was fortunately corporately-backed to be able to give back,” Haines said. “Tailgate is still a small company that's learning to grow but we've been fortunate to have a big company corporately back us so we have the resources of AEO Foundation to make a big donation to benefit places like ESP.”

Tailgate was not alone in its contributions. Other organizations around campus joined the company in supporting the initiative and raising awareness for the cause.

“It was ESP and ESP at UGA that worked on this campaign but there were tons of organizations like [the Student Government Association], the Redcoats, Flagline and tons of people that came together to support this campaign,” Conroy said. “I think the biggest thing that we want to shout from the rooftops about is how grateful we are for the whole community support.”

Although football season is over, Tailgate is still selling clothing printed with the logo.

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