SPRINGDALE, Ohio — Judy Donley had just become an empty nester in 2017 and was praying for a way to use her skills to serve others.
That’s when she saw a report on WCPO 9 about Dress A Girl Around the World, a nonprofit that harnesses the sewing skills of volunteers to make dresses for girls in poverty-stricken areas around the globe.
“I thought, I can do that,” Donley recalled.
She couldn’t find a contact in Ohio but reached a lady in Arizona, where she and her husband were planning to visit to see their son.
“She got me involved, gave me a pattern, gave me fabric, and said, ‘you can do this,’” Donley said. ‘I thought, OK, I’ll just work with my little church area because we do about four mission trips a year.”
But those plans to start small didn’t last.
“In a very short time, it just expanded, and so many ladies came on board and started helping,” said Donley, who is a Dress A Girl ambassador for the Cincinnati and Dayton area. “You don’t have to know how to sew. If you can cut or you can iron or you can package, we welcome anybody. I have people from age nine all the way to 94 that help in some form or fashion.”
Donley’s efforts have grown so much, in fact, that her group of volunteers recently surpassed 5,000 dresses that have been sent to more than 20 countries.
“The goal is that we are able to provide a brand-new dress to a little girl who may have never owned one before,” Donley said. “So that’s a blessing.”
For Donley’s group of volunteers, the mission has gotten even bigger.
Thanks to the volunteers’ suggestions, donations and talents, all the dresses that Donley sends out also come with a new pair of underwear and a hairband, hair scrunchy or doll in the pocket.
Some of the volunteers are skilled enough to make shorts for boys, too.
“It takes teamwork to do the dream work,” Donley said. “So it’s not just me.”
‘I just want to serve’
But Donley is the one whose giving spirit attracts so many volunteers to the group, said Paula Eisele, who has known Donley for more than 20 years.
“She makes you feel so comfortable,” Eisele said. “And she’s just so bubbly and just has that heart to give back to others.”
Donley coordinates one Saturday per month where volunteers gather in a second-floor room at Springdale Nazarene Church to prepare fabric, sew dresses and get everything packed up.
Eisele can’t usually be there on Saturdays, but she said that she and many others sew from home for the ministry and then drop off dresses to Donley or help her pack up dresses at her house.
“I feel like I’m a cheerleader for her, and I pray for the ministry,” Eisele said. “And if she needs something done that I can help with, I’m more than happy to do that.”
Donley said she’s grateful so many people want to help.
“If it wasn’t for all these ladies coming on board and coming with me alongside of me, this wouldn’t happen,” she said. “That is what I think is a huge blessing, to have that.”
Donley will continue the work, she said, as long as God continues to provide.
“I just want to give back. Whatever it takes, whatever that looks like, I just want to serve and help others,” she said. “I think that’s very important that we all find a way to just help somebody else -- and bring a smile to their face.”
Dress A Girl Around the World relies on donations of time, money and fabric. More information about the ministry is available online. Or you can email Judy Donley at firstname.lastname@example.org. Her group’s next sew day is scheduled for 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday Jan. 15, 2022, weather permitting.
Acts of Kindness stories appear weekly on WCPO 9 News and WCPO.com. If you know about an act of kindness that you think should be highlighted, email email@example.com.