by Sherrie Norris
In trying to decide on a special project that would have a lasting and positive impact on others, Shelby Watson, Ella Carroll, Kate Tuberty and Kazia Orkizewski chose to focus their time and talent on a nonprofit Christian organization known as Little Dresses for Africa.
The group provides clothing and other resources, not only to children in Africa, but also in other parts of the world, including parts of the Appalachian Mountains.
Through the program, simple dresses are made from pillowcases and distributed through orphanages, churches and schools in Africa and beyond.
While it may sound "simple," organizers see the outreach effort as one that delivers a powerful message and allows young female recipients to feel worthy -- and to know that someone cares about their well-being.
The Girl Scouts currently involved in this outreach locally are members of Troop 10807, which encompasses the Green Valley School area and meets at Bethany Lutheran Church every Tuesday during the school year.
Led by Janet Moretz and JoAnne Jenkins, with the help of six assistants, the troop is comprised of about 28 girls from grades three to 10.
"We are very proud of our girls," Moretz said. "These four learned to make the dresses and then held a workshop last Saturday to teach other girls how to make them, too."
In addition to the four who are working on their bronze awards, three others in the troop are in the final stages of completing their silver awards, Jenkins said.
"Crystal Cornett has been working to 'Spread the Bread,' by cooking and donating bread to those in need. Brianna Meadows and Emma Liesegang are collecting toys and games to donate to Camp Care, a summer camp for children with cancer. They hope to be finished by the end of May," she said.
These are just a few examples of how this Girl Scout troop is making a difference, their leaders said.
Learning about the dress project in Africa and its history was compelling to the four in pursuit of the their bronze awards, Jenkins said.
It all started with a woman by the name of Rachel O'Neil who, knowing the difficulties faced by many young girls in Africa, decided to take some dresses to the village children.
A small group of women began helping her sew simple little dresses, made out of pillowcases, to be distributed to young girls in African orphanages.
The pillowcase idea caught on quickly and is a simple one in which even a novice seamstress can effectively work, program directors said. Pillowcases are available in many colors and patterns, they come with a hem and enclosed sides and are often sitting unused on shelves in closets in many homes.
The idea that they could be turned into bright little sundresses, perfectly suited for the African climate, has garnered the attention of many seamstresses across the world, young and old.
To date, more than 2 million "little dresses" and donations have come through the program and distributed in 47 countries in Africa. They have arrived from all 50 of the United States and other countries, including the United Kingdom, Ireland, Canada, Mexico and Australia.
Because of the overwhelming response to the project, its outreach is also extending to other countries in crisis, such as Honduras, Guatemala, Thailand, the Dominican, the Philippines and Cambodia, Mexico and Haiti.
More importantly than how many have been shipped -- or where they have been distributed -- are the lives that they have touched, program coordinators said. Every little dress goes out as a little ambassador in the name of Jesus, to give hope to the children that receive them.
This ministry captures the hearts of many and continues to grow as groups of all sizes spring up across America. they said. The groups cross age, gender and denominational lines to serve the most vulnerable of God's children: little girls.
Speaking for her Girl Scout troop in Boone, Breanna Meadows said, "It means a lot that we can do something for others who need it more."
Shelby Watson said, "I can not wait for the little girls to get these dresses. It's so cool we can make clothes with so little. They are going to be so cute."
Regarding the troop's other projects, Crystal Cornett said she loved being able to share her time, talent and recipes with other girls through her recent Spread the Bread workshop, and knowing that they could, in turn, share what they learned with their families.
"Then when I prepared the biscuits for the weekly community meal at my church, it was nice to see everyone enjoying them so much and wanting the recipe, too," she said. "It made me feel like I had helped make a difference in the community."
Shelby Barker said, "I love, love, love Girl Scouts," and had fun learning as she recently obtained her pottery badge.
Little Dresses for Africa provides numerous ways to help, the girls have learned. Many groups, such as their own, have started or hosted their own sewing group, have volunteered to size and pack little dresses or make financial contributions toward shipping costs.
To ensure that they actually get to the children, the majority of dresses are sent with mission teams from the United States as they travel on their missions for personal distribution.
As the project leaders have said, they are not just sending dresses, but they are also sending hope.
These local Girl Scouts are always on the move and looking for things to do for their community. They also like to travel and will be taking a trip to Cherokee later this year. Next year, they are planning a trip to Savannah, Ga., which is the birthplace of Girl Scouts in the U.S.