By JEANNIE WILEY WOLF
Annalyse Dissinger is on a mission to make dresses for girls in need around the world.
For the past two and a half years, the Findlay teen has been sewing and organizing work days to make dresses. With the help of her mother, Adrianne Dissinger, and other volunteers, they have created a total of 275 dresses to benefit an organization called Dress a Girl Around the World.
More recently, Annalyse has started making headbands that are sold at We Serve.Coffee and Journey Salon & Day Spa. Proceeds are used to purchase needed items for an orphanage in Haiti.
“I don’t know that I had exactly expected how long it (the project) would last or how many dresses we would complete, and it’s still going so who knows,” she said. “But I was determined we were going to get 100 dresses (the first year). We did 101 that year.”
The mother-daughter team sewed the first dresses during the summer of 2016.
“A family friend had introduced us to an organization called Dress a Girl Around the World,” Annalyse said. “She was working for a different organization for women at risk here in America called Somebody’s Daughter, and they were teaching the ladies a trade.” Some of the women were learning to sew, and the dresses they made were going to be sold.
“For every dress they made, they wanted to send one to Dress a Girl so that other little girls wouldn’t end up in the same situation,” she explained. “Since they were new sewers, they were falling a little behind. They asked us if we would sew dresses and we started by making nine dresses.”
Annalyse learned to sew from her mother and grandmother. She’s also taken sewing projects as a member of His Kids 4-H Club.
“We enjoy sewing and it’s such a useful skill,” said Adrianne.
For a 4-H project this summer, Annalyse renovated the family’s bathroom. Part of the work included sewing draperies, which saved money in the family’s budget.
“But what is neat is that she’s been able to take her skills for sewing and to benefit others,” her mother said.
Annalyse researched Dress a Girl and learned that the organization has distributed over 500,000 dresses to little girls in more than 80 countries. Their motto is “Imagine a world where every girl owned at least one dress.”
“I was like, ‘OK, I want to continue that mission,'” she said.
At first, Annalyse told her mom she wanted to make a total of 25 dresses. “But my real goal was 100. I didn’t want to scare her,” she said.
Adrianne suspected her daughter had a higher number in mind. “She’s an overachiever,” Adrianne said.
“I’m an overachiever, and I like nice, round numbers like 100,” Annalyse laughed.
When Adrianne realized how important the mission was to her daughter, she agreed to help and they started going through their stash of material.
“Everybody has a thing they kind of hoard, and mine is fabric,” said Adrianne. “And as that fabric supply dwindled and dwindled, I thought, ‘I don’t know how we’re going to do this’ because right to the point where we got to 50 dresses, we were almost out of fabric.”
It was then they started receiving donations.
“God has been very good,” said Adrianne. “As needs have arisen, they have been more than met.”
At one point, Annalyse made an announcement at her church, telling the congregation of Blanchard River Church of Christ in Dunkirk about the project and the mission of Dress a Girl.
“I was not saying that we needed money. I think I said we were going to have a sewing day and it would be awesome if they wanted to come,” she recalled.
But even the nonsewers wanted to help. Some donated fabric and others gave money that has been used to purchase supplies. To date, more than $1,700 has been contributed.
For the most part, they make three types of dresses: A-line, peasant and T-shirt styles.
“You don’t want anything with buttons or zippers because if it breaks, they have no way to fix it most of the time,” Annalyse said.
And cotton material is recommended for its durability.
“They often wash it in rivers with rocks,” said Annalyse. “Like polyester, it’s not going to last as long as good cotton.”
All sizes are needed, but Annalyse and Adrianne focus on sizes 8 and larger, some of which will fit the women.
The project became part of Annalyse’s “Hands to Larger Service” 4-H project that year.
“It’s kind of expanded from there,” she said.
Annalyse has organized seven community sewing days since then, where volunteers come and help make dresses. Two people working together can finish a dress in about three hours.
“But we have really, really tried to open it up that sewers and nonsewers can come,” said Adrianne.
For example, nonsewers can pin fabric and make tags that state the dress size.
“I think from the very beginning, the goal of sewing days was not only to make dresses but to bring awareness,” said Adrianne. “And with 4-H it’s been nice because the new sewers get to come and kind of practice sewing and learn new skills.”
They said one little girl who had not sewn before was able to finish a dress at one of the sessions.
“She was hopping up and down,” said Annalyse. “She could barely get the camera to focus when she was taking the picture. I’m like, ‘We have to keep making dresses’. She really, really was excited.”
A special purple Dress a Girl label is attached to each garment.
“The local pastors noticed that little girls wearing a new dress with a Dress a Girl label on it are more protected from potential predators because they see that they’re wearing a new dress and someone cares about them and an organization is watching out for them,” said Annalyse. “So although it’s small, it’s very important.”
They have also put together kits that include everything needed to sew a dress at home.
And last December, Annalyse and her mother were able to go on a mission trip to Haiti. They took along 25 dresses, as well as handmade shorts and purchased shirts for 26 boys in one of the orphanages.
“That was really awesome getting to see them receive the dresses and their excitement,” Annalyse said.
They also learned that more mattresses were needed for the children. After returning home, Annalyse came up with the idea of using part of the T-shirt that’s cut off in making dresses and creating headbands to sell. The cost is $4.50 for one, $8 for two or $10 for three, and the sales of those have helped purchase 15 mattresses.
Next, Annalyse wants to raise funds to buy food supplements for the children.
“They need $1,000 a month for the 40 kids, plus six adult helpers, for food. And if you divide that up, it’s 23 cents per meal per person,” she said.
“When I heard that, I started to cry,” said Adrianne. “Haiti is such a poor country and the children that end up in the orphanage are usually those who have been kind of rejected from society. And Haiti is a society that kind of takes care of its own, and for these children to end up in an orphanage is not a good sign.”
But they found the children were well cared for.
“They are able to feed them, but the food that they’re able to feed them doesn’t necessarily meet all their nutritional needs and so they said even if the children could receive supplements, like twice a month, those would help,” said Adrianne.
Annalyse, who also takes college classes at Owens Community College, is thinking about a career in education or home economics and possibly teaching in Haiti.
“It has been a joy,” said Adrianne. “A joy to see the children’s faces. The joy you just kind of feel in your heart in knowing it’s going to go to the right place. But I think also a joy of others being able to participate. It has been nice all around.”
For more information or to make a donation to the project, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or mail donations to 15810 County Road 9, Findlay, 45840. Checks should be made out to Blanchard River Church of Christ with “Dress a Child Around the World Mission” on the memo line.