From Wisconsin with Love. Three Wonderful Women Touch Our Children.

Never underestimate the power of one small idea and the good that can come out of it when people join together to make a positive difference in the world. One year ago Susanne Nickolai-Mays of Princeton, Wisconsin attended a quilt show in Madison and came back home with a project she was eager to work on to make a difference in others’ lives. She learned about a project called “Little dresses for Africa” supported by Nancy’s Notions quilt supply store of neighbouring Beaver Dam. This simple event has led to the development of an ever growing little “village” of people in central Wisconsin with similar feelings about helping others.

When Nickolai-Mays brought this project to the attention of her friend, Beverly Schaele of Green Lake they enthusiastically began to brainstorm ways to make this happen. Schaele remarked that she knew someone who goes to Haiti on mission trips frequently, taking much needed supplies and necessities of life to Port-au-Prince. Both women knew about the overwhelming needs in that country still suffering from a massive earthquake which hit the area in 2010, killing thousands of people. From that came the idea of making little dresses for Haiti.

The three women met at Schaele’s house every week for an afternoon and bright little dresses to fit girls ages 3-12 years began to take shape. And, despite various crises in these women’s lives including major surgeries, health issues, and the death of one member’s husband, more than 160 dresses were sown during the next 10 months and sent down to Haiti in the luggage of mission members.

Because the three women enjoy the camaraderie of sewing together and the cause for which they sew, they began to share information about their project with others in their communities. Soon all three were inundated with donations of cotton fabrics to use in dresses, brightly colored pillow cases which can be transformed into sun dresses for smaller girls, bits of unused lace for dress decorations, and donations of money to buy needed supplies such as quarter-inch elastic, bias tape to shape the arm holes and the shoulder ties for the dresses.
Then, earlier this summer, the three women decided to enlarge their efforts when Ms. Mays was visited by Mary Mwinzi, our Founder’s mother, an American teacher friend of hers who has lived in Kenya for the last 40 years. Mwinzi was telling Ms. Mays about her daughter Mwende’s efforts to help AIDS orphans back home in Kenya through an organization Mwende founded after she survived the 2001 Twin Tower disaster in New York. So, after a brief discussion among the three sewers it was decided to also make some sun dresses to go to the children in Kenya. Like the little dresses for Haiti, these dresses have traveled with Mwende whenever she visits Kenya. Once again, just like in Haiti, the little dresses have been going directly into the hands of the needy upon their arrival in the country rather than getting tied up in bureaucratic red tape.

When asked about the project, Ruby Keller stated, “It makes me happy to know that I can do some small things to make the world a better place—especially for children. And, I enjoy the time spent with my friends as we do our sewing. To see all the little dresses packed and ready to go to Haiti or Kenya is a beautiful sight!”
“The African proverb which says that it takes a village to raise a child has come to life in this area of Wisconsin as I think of the people who have stepped forward to show their support for helping others in need through this project,” says Susanne Nickolai-Mays. “Even though our country is going through hard economic times, most people realize that we in the U.S. have been so abundantly blessed in comparison to other nations in the world. Those are the people who say, ‘what can I do to help those in need?’ The three of us have found that many helping hands can each do a little work to make a gigantic difference in improving the quality of life for innocent children. That is a truly uplifting feeling for all of us.”

As the beautiful smiles on our children’s faces show, these dresses have brought much joy in a village with so little. What a blessing they have been! We would like to offer our utmost gratitude to these lovely women – Beverly, Sue and Ruby – for their kindness, patience and deep love for our children. Most of all, we wish to thank them for allowing themselves to be instruments of God through the blessings they’ve shared.

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