In April 2014, Jablonski raised more than $70, 000 for Autism Speaks at her fundraising event called “A Night for Autism,” a cocktail party that raises money through a silent art auction donated by photographers in the fashion industry. “It’s very nice to have my first two events with [Autism Speaks],” Jablonski recalled. “They really taught me a lot and they’re such a huge charity.” She also plans to launch her foundation. “I’ve met a lot of great people while working in this business and living in New York. I really felt strongly about having my own foundation and I really wanted to take advantage of these people who wanted to help and get it going and start.”
As the fashion industry and the public are monitoring her accelerating career as a model, Jablonski has been concentrating on raising money for autism patients, their families, and for research. She is active in awareness efforts as well such as opening up to magazines, news outlets and her industry about her brother, who was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. In April 2013, an autism science and advocacy organization called Autism Speaks invited her and her brother to join them to ring the opening bell of the New York Stock Exchange, a tradition Autism Speaks has been a part of for years. She recalls the memory. “When they rang the bell…[Tommy] literally shouted with laughter at how funny and how loud it was and his loud laughter made me start cracking up because I thought the whole place could hear his laughter.”
“The Jablonski Family”, New Jersey, 1995
Tommy is full of energy and whimsy. “My brother is very athletic,” Jablonski said. “He even says that in school, he’s the best in gym. And, he’s tall. He’s built like an athlete. He loves to play basketball and ride bikes and go skiing. He loves to keep moving.” He has an athletic build and he is taller than his older sister. He received portable speakers as a Christmas gift and uses it frequently to listen to Calvin Harris, Bob Marley, Katy Perry, or to any beat that welcomes the listener to dance. He enjoys spending time in New York City and all of the spectacles and warm lights that deserve his attention. He knows what he wants, almost to a fault. When he was around five years old, during a trip in Disneyworld, he went missing for several hours until security found him sleeping on the bench by the carousel, which was his favorite ride.
Despite the scare, Jablonski’s fondest memories with her brother and her family are their trips to Florida. In contrast to life at home, they are inseparable in the beautiful weather and beaches of the South. But their home and their lives are in New Jersey, where they grew up, and an hour away from New York City where Jablonski would begin her modeling career. The nature of her work demands her to be on planes frequently, but her thoughts rarely deviate from home, her parents, her sisters, and her brother.
“Tommy and Kathryn Jablonski”, New Jersey
Having a personal stake in the issue, Jablonski has been campaigning with her brother, bringing him in front of the public eye. The NYSE was not the only public appearance of the two siblings together. In the November 2014 issue of Teen Vogue magazine, the profile on Jablonski was about her experiences with having a sibling in the autism spectrum while starting her modeling career and completing her high school education. In the photos, despite Jablonski’s supermodel edge in her eyes and shoulders, her brother independently emits a boldness and sharpness as they had the same gene for poise.
While Tommy has been getting publicity, Jablonski still pays attention to her other siblings. She has two younger sisters, Allyson, the second oldest, and Kathryn, who is Tommy’s twin. “Tommy has made this family even stronger. He has made us even closer as a family.” There stresses on the family to provide the necessary attention to Tommy while she began her busy modeling career, but pragmatic approaches and relentless support for one another only tightened the bonds between each other. When asked what family meant to her, Jablonski replied, “People who are always around you. People who will always accept you. People who don’t judge. Who have this love that is indescribable. They are my best friends who give my advice, who are always there.” Reliability, unconditional acceptance, and a persistent flow of love do not merely define family, but are also expectations on each other.
Jablonski and her siblings had to grow up faster than most people. While they were kids, they had a precocious sense of independence and initiative, working jobs while sharing the load to take care of Tommy. For them, the sense of duty for each other is natural. From this experience, initiating her own foundation was an obvious move for her.
Jablonski’s own foundation concentrates on a rising problem for people on the autism spectrum. “Basically, my charity would be more specific and focus on adults with autism, because what I’ve been finding through my research — and I can relate with my brother, now twenty years old, and there’s not many opportunities for adults with autism out there. Not job opportunities. Not school opportunities; and not to the level of the schooling that they’ve had in previous years. That would be my goal: to create opportunities for these children who are becoming adults. The numbers rose to one in sixty-eight children who have autism. So, there’s a whole generation of children with autism coming, more than ever, reaching adulthood, who is unsure of what is next for them.”
Jablonski cites a statistic from The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which also found that 1 in 175 children in Alabama and 1 in 45 children in New Jersey have been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. Her story is not only a personal one, but also a national one. She seeks to start filling a need that will be growing and affecting more families. Treatment and special care for people with autism spectrum disorder is still expensive. Moreover, families are still more in the dark to the nature of autism and the treatments it entails, stigmatizing the disorder. Unlike Jablonski, most people do not interact with people with autism spectrum disorder. The lack of opportunities for jobs and further education is becoming more severe and urgent. She sees her brother and wants society to include people with autism, to not judge them and to accept them as their families have.
Jablonski channels her brother’s energy and mettle when she talks about him. “He doesn’t have much fear. He would go on roller coasters; he just loves that rush,” Jablonski explains.
© Nicholas Ong, Portrait of Jacquelyn Jablonski by Nicholas Ong
Jablonski’s life echoes a quote from Jacquelyn Kennedy, the wife of former U.S. president John. F. Kennedy and who her parents named her after. Jackie Kennedy once said, “The only routine with me is no routine at all.” Since her modeling career started, Jablonski has modeled for a slate of large fashion companies. The highlight of her career so far is likely to walk on the runway for the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show every year since 2010. Her career was not without trials. “I always think that if you can get through the first couple years, then you’re good. It was definitely hard, the weekends, the late nights, feeling that you need to do every show.” She was passionate about this industry and excited that she could grow in it. But, she was patient. She finished high school and contributed to the attention and care of her brother. “Like I said,” she continues, “it’s been amazing because I get to take advantage of this opportunity and start my own foundation and have a voice in the industry, and not to just be a model, but to also be a personality.” Like Jacquelyn Kennedy, Jablonski put her family on top of her priorities while the rest of the world was calling for her. She will be turning twenty five years old this year. Her body of work is already full of large campaigns, but she wants to accept a deeper role as a public figure.
Her family will always be the ones who act as the moral compass that guides Jablosnki. In New York City, she visits home occasionally to catch up over family dinners. She wears her heart on her voice. When she talks about autism spectrum disorder, she speaks in a steady, lucid monotone. When she talks about her family, her tones fluctuate and her conversation contains more verbs.
© Ryan Yoon, Portrait of Jacquelyn Jablonski by Ryan Yoon
When she talks about work, she is engaged and fluid, similar to talking to an expert in any field. Unlike most experts, Jablonski opens up regularly to her fan base in small, but meaningful ways. She is active in her Instagram and Twitter accounts, sharing photos of backstage in fashion shows or family photos. One of her photos that she shared of Tommy shows him in front of a Christmas tree, poking his head through a reindeer cutout. Jablonski mentions that Christmas is her brother’s favorite time of year as he enjoys the season’s food, mood, and decorations. They go also skiing occasionally for the holidays. “He’s actually beaten me on the slopes,” she said, “because he has no fear. He would just go straight.”
Someone has probably already said the same thing about Jablonski, about her fearlessness, pragmatism, and brand of duty that she learned from her family which has kept her priorities in check while allowing herself to set high expectations and ambitions for her career. The future is by no means clear or drawn as a straight line. However, even as the future pulls us like gravity, Jablonski, still in her youth, is finding ways to create her own possibilities, carry out her own choices, and take responsibility for them. “He doesn’t have much fear. He would go on roller coasters; he just loves that rush.” She loves to keep moving.
Interview by Ryan Yoon, Written by Henry He Shuen Hsiao.
Makeup by Emi Kaneko, Hair by Taichi Saito, Model and Styling by Jacquelyn Jablonski at IMG New York, Styling assistance by Lisa Jarvis.
Special Thanks to Liz Carpenter and Taylor Martin.