Diane Jones is the Illinois Ambassador for Dress A Girl Around the World, Tinley Park affiliate. A community of seamstresses committed to the mission of providing girls in need with dresses and a smile on their faces.
Tammy Gibson [TG]: Tell me about Dress A Girl Around the World International?
Diane Jones [DJ]: I work with Dress A Girl Around the World International that was founded in 2006 by Rachel Eggum Cinader. It was established through her work with Hope 4 Women International, where she supports women in Uganda, helping them to become self-sufficient through education and employment in different areas. Sewing projects and tailoring is one of the avenues used for earning income. Making dresses for girls was one such project. When pictures surfaced of the girls wearing beautiful handmade dresses, everyone wanted to become a part of this project, and that is how Dress A Girl Around the World started. Our motto is “Every Little Girl Deserves a Least One New Dress.”
TG: What is a typical day when you go to Uganda?
DJ: My day starts with a group meeting where we discuss what villages we would visit and the number of children that we expect to see. We travel to the village, meet with the organizer, teachers, and/or parents, and discuss sex trafficking if permitted. We then have the children come in groups according to age and size, and they receive their dresses. Once they receive their dresses, we take group pictures, and many of the girls want to take individual photos.
TG: What are the biggest challenges for girls in Uganda?
DJ: What I found while visiting Uganda, was the need for education and employment opportunities, along with health care. Many women support themselves and their families by farming or selling in markets. Human trafficking is also a concern. Therefore, whenever possible, we offer education on methods to protect both boys and girls. The girls, even the younger ones, are responsible for chores like getting water, which in itself can sometimes be very dangerous, because of long distances required to get to a water source.
TG: What do you love about doing missionary work?
DJ: Any opportunity to visit another country is a great experience. The beauty of Uganda is beyond amazing. I love connecting with the people that we support. To see the girls in dresses, walk-on grounds that they walk, embrace them, their culture, and let them know we care is priceless. Phrases I heard over and over again in Uganda were “Thank you for coming,” Thank you for caring about us,” and “Thank you for helping us.” Our brothers and sisters need to see faces that look like them.
TG: How many dresses do you make?
DJ: Dress A Girl is ten years old and has dressed over one million girls in 81 countries, including the United States. I have participated in dressing girls for eight years. Dress A Girl goes to Uganda three times a year, in addition to other countries. I have personally dressed girls in Uganda. My Dress a Girl Team which consists of seven women in and around the south suburbs of Chicago, and dozens of seamstresses throughout the state of Illinois and Indiana, dressed over 700 girls in 2019, in places including Sierra Leone, Uganda, Nigeria, Ghana, and Guatemala.
TG: What are girl’s reactions when they receive their dresses?
DJ: The girls are always happy. Most dance, spin, jump up and down. Some are more reserved, standing almost dazed with the idea that someone cared enough to give them something fresh and new. They are so appreciative. You would think that when you get a new dress, you want to preserve it, but the girls love wearing and modeling them immediately.
We don’t hand the dresses to them; we help dress the girls. One by one, we place the dress over their head and say, “This dress was made, especially for you because Jesus loves you.” The personal contact is a conveyer of esteem and caring. Once they receive the dress, they are delighted, running, playing, and jumping. It’s like a precious gift that they want to experience and want everyone to see them wearing their new dress.
To me, it’s not about the dress; it’s about clothing the girls with dignity. Letting them know that they are worthy and that someone cares for them instills in them hope and a desire to want more and do more for themselves. A lot of girls feel discarded, abandoned, on a societal and cultural level. Knowing that someone cares enough to handmake an item that is not mass produced tangibly demonstrates this. The dresses are unique and individual. It gives them a sense of dignity and self-worth, and that is priceless. You can outgrow a dress, but you never outgrow that sense of dignity, self-esteem, and confidence and that is necessary for these young girls to survive.
TG: What can individuals do to help the organization?
DJ: The organization has various means of partnering by giving fabric and monetary donations as well as lending a helping hand. We are always looking for people that can sew, iron, fold, pack, travel, and visit other countries and collaborate with other organizations that do missionary work. We have Sew Fest every year, where women are invited to come out and be instructed on how to make dresses and make kits for other women to sew. There is never any charge for the dresses that are donated to mission groups.
TG: You are being honored as the 2020 Phenomenal Woman at the Zeta Phi Beta, Xi Mu Zeta Chapter, Sisterhood Tea in February. How does that make you feel to be recognized for this distinguished and deserved award?
DJ: I am honored because service is sometimes overlooked. I applaud any organization that earnestly recognizes people in their community that have made serving a lifestyle. It brings value to the work that is being done and it lets people know that they are appreciated, and that makes me feel that I am moving in the right direction.
Find out more about Diane Jones and Dress A Girl Around the World at https://www.facebook.com/DressAGirlTinley/.