CINCINNATI -- Two years ago, Sharon Ricketts, a retired school teacher, watched a media report on sex trafficking victims. She was distressed at the plight of the women and haunted by the sad faces of their children.
“I became interested in helping them, so I went on the internet and found an organization,” said Ricketts, a Morrow resident, referring to Hope 4 Women International , which seeks to uplift and empower women fighting poverty or sex trafficking or both.
“Hope 4 Women brings hope and dignity to women and children with various initiatives, and they deliver dresses to children who may be targeted for human trafficking. Our goal is for every little girl to own at least one dress,” said Ricketts, who loves to sew and was intrigued by the group’s program Dress a Girl Around the World.
“We have been told by village pastors that a new dress gives the impression that this girl is under the care of an organization,” said Ricketts, a mother, grandmother and former reading teacher from the Loveland school district. She has made 100 dresses.
When she originally read that people worldwide hand-sew dresses in living rooms, basements, schools, churches and civic centers, she started to sew some, too.
First she sewed alone, then she formed groups with women – educators, mothers and grandmothers. Her volunteers meet at JoAnn Fabrics in Mason each week for three hours, and each woman sews a dress from start to finish.
The space is donated by JoAnn and the fabrics by many individuals. The first class for the summer included four seamstresses and Ricketts.
Ricketts and many other volunteers use sturdy cotton for the dresses so the girls stay cool in hot climates. They also sew the “Dress a Girl Around the World” logo onto each dress, to deter traffickers.
“When they see the girls with these dresses, it’s a signal that these girls are being supervised and someone cares about them,” Ricketts said.
She has spent her own money and accepted donations from those who cannot sew but want to help. It costs approximately $5 to make a dress.
“And I will continue to do it for as long as I can.”
It’s a vow her friend and sewing partner Pam Sharp has also made.
“I love the idea of what the dresses stand for and who they are going to, and I enjoy making them,” said Sharp, a retired physical therapist for Warren County schools. “We are going to grow old together as we make these dresses.”
Michelle Charleston has been to Kenya and seen the need for clothes first-hand.
“I used to take old clothes, but there is only so much I can fit into my suitcases. I tried to send packages, but they got stolen. So, I wanted to work with an organization that can get the clothes to the people who need it,” said Charleston, a mother, grandmother and retired sociology professor from Miami University.
Dress a Girl Around the World is adamant about giving dresses to girls in person.
“It’s a personal encounter. Volunteers allow the girls to choose a dress that fits them and interact with each girl and then they put the new dress on the girl. And then they exclaim, ‘You look beautiful. Somebody made this dress for you and they prayed for you while they sewed it because you are special, you are cared for, they love you and God loves you,’” said Nancy Kenny, a Lebanon resident and part-time sewing instructor at the Countryside YMCA. She collects hundreds of dresses from sewing circles and individuals and gives them to Dress a Girl Around the World or to ministries going abroad.
In four years, Kenny estimates she has sent 500 dresses from her sewing class.
Rachael Eggum Cinader, founder and president of Tempe, Arizona-based Hope 4 Women International, said she and others “are passionate about women and girls around the world.”
The organization started by helping women and children in Uganda and the Philippines.
“Then it just exploded and went all over the world. I am still amazed at how people from Switzerland, Japan and the United Kingdom started to send us dresses. When I think about it, I know it is all God making this possible,” said Cinader, who also sews dresses whenever she can.
Dress A Girl Around the World, formed in October 2009, has distributed approximately 600,000 dresses to 82 countries and has ambassadors throughout the U.S.
If you are interested in learning how to sew dresses, Kenny holds a free class at the Countryside YMCA on the third Friday of every month from 10 a.m. to noon. If you already know how to sew, you can join Ricketts at JoAnn Fabrics. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org