Lake Norman & Mooresville

Her pillowcase dresses clothe girls worldwide

The girls, glowing with smiles, wear bright dresses in all colors of the rainbow. Neatly tied ribbons serve as slim straps above the cool, soft cotton.

These girls are in St. John, Haiti, Uganda, Romania and India. These dresses are made from pillowcases.

Lisa Ward of Mooresville - together with family, friends, a passion to serve and Facebook as facilitator - has made and delivered more than 614 dresses to girls in five countries.

Between 400 and 500 more dresses will be delivered to India, Uganda and Haiti later this year, said Ward, who is the N.C. representative for Dress a Girl Around the World.

Hope 4 Women International's Dress a Girl Around the World is a not-for-profit agency. Members sew pillowcase dresses for the agency to distribute. Teams and partners personally carry the dresses to their destinations. The organization has delivered about 46,717 dresses to 53 countries, including the U.S.

Ward's journey began in March 2011 after she read a news article posted on Facebook about a local church that, inspired by Dress a Girl, was delivering dresses to Haiti. Ward wanted to help after hearing how the dresses would benefit girls affected by the 2010 earthquake.

She contacted Rachel Eggum Cinader, founder of Dress a Girl. Cinader invited her to be N.C. representative for the organization. Ward started sewing with her family's blessing.

On May 24, Ward posted to Facebook: "Please check out this website I will be the N.C. state representative for this organization and help collect, teach and distribute dresses around the world with this organization. So exciting! Our goal at Hope 4 Women International is 'to provide a dress for every girl around the world.'"

"Facebook friends came out of the woodwork," she said. The first 200 dresses she sewed were made from collections she received from Facebook friends and family. They were sent to a missionary in Haiti.

The Wards' living room in her Linwood Farms home recently served as temporary storage for a community yard sale the family hosted to raise money for Ward to make trips to Uganda and India to deliver dresses and teach women to sew. The master bedroom is now sewing headquarters.

The sewing center is highly organized in a colorful assembly-line system. Piles of pillowcases and ribbon are neatly stacked and folded on the two tables that form an L-shape around Ward and her sewing machine. She has pre-matched each stack so it's ready to be sewn. Piles of finished dresses line the floor.

It takes Ward about 30 minutes to sew a dress.

"Basically, it's simple," she said.

She makes a dress from one pillowcase and ribbon. Each dress gets a "Hope 4 Women International" label. The cost of a new dress is around $3.50.

Ward photographs each dress, gives it a number, records who donated the pillowcase and ribbon, then posts the photo on her personal Facebook wall.

Dresses are transported in the personal luggage of people traveling to those countries, often on mission trips. About 175 rolled-up dresses, weighing 50 pounds, can fit into a duffel bag.

When the dresses are delivered, she is often able to match an original photo with a photograph of the dress being worn. She posts that on the "Dress A Girl Around the World - North Carolina" Facebook page and tags (makes the photo visible to) the sewer or the donor.

When Lisa Ward was a little girl growing up in Winston-Salem, her grandmother, Olivia Harvey, taught her how to sew on the sewing machine that Ward's great-grandmother, Ruby Wilson's, had used.

"This would make her (Wilson) so happy!" Ward said.

"You take something that you have been gifted with and you use it to help other people," she said. "God has gifted me with this talent."

Of those 614 dresses made over the last six months, Ward sewed 382 herself. That's 614 smiles on the faces of 614 girls in their brand-new dresses.