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Little Dresses for Africa: Statesboro seamstresses sending hope from Bethany

Thanks to Connie Murphey, a group of ladies from The Lodge at Bethany is meeting monthly to sew sweet and simple -- but much needed -- clothing for children around the world.
Showing their dresses before they are shipped. (Left to right) Anglyn Anderson, Joan Beck, Sue Berman, Lois Jones, Becky Mercer, Joyce Collins, Lyndall Tatum.

“Little Dresses for Africa” is a non-profit 501(c)(3) Christian organization formed to send dresses and HOPE to girls in difficult circumstances around the world. 

As the story goes, Rachel O'Neill exchanged her socialite 50th birthday celebration for a trip to Africa with her husband. While experiencing a Safari, they visited a women's group in Uganda. O’Neill was touched by the African women's “eagerness to learn, listen, and be part of things” and knew she would return.

Upon her return 18 months later, she joined a mission group to Malawi and noticed that women did ALL the work: tilled the fields, harvested and gathered the wood for kindling to cook, and doing everything with a baby on their back. When it was time to eat, the women went to the back of the line.

"I couldn't believe that after everything they do, they're treated like they're not as VALUABLE!” O'Neill proclaimed.

Sue Berman matching ribbon for the dress. Michele LeBlanc

It was then she came up with the idea of sewing dresses for women to help HONOR them. What began as one woman's small-scale effort became the global nonprofit that it is today. O'Neill runs the business from her headquarters in Rockwood, Michigan. Through it, dresses are distributed to 97 countries, sewn by approximately 23,000 volunteers. The non-profit has sent more than 10 million dresses for young girls (and now britches for young boys!) to orphanages, villages, and schools around the world.

The recipients are also taught simple lessons on nutrition, clean water, and sanitation through the ‘Dignity Program.’ A simple idea was born to not only offer relief but also to ‘Plant the Seeds of Worthiness in the Hearts of Little Girls.'

So how does Statesboro come into play?

Dresses for Africa-100 ready to GO!-The Lodge at Bethany. Michele LeBlanc

Well, Statesboro is one of the volunteer sites that contributes to this noble cause. Allow me to introduce Connie Murphey. Murphey worked in financial aid for 34 years and retired in 2015. She enjoys working in her yard, sewing dresses, and spending time with her family.

In mid October 2023, Murphey decided to ‘Answer the Call’ when the ‘Lodge at Bethany’ posted a need for volunteers. Murphey, wanting to fill her retirement time, applied happily. Having been involved with the Little Dresses for Africa mission for over 12 years and being a lover of sewing, she introduced this project to ‘The Lodge at Bethany.’ 

Both Regina Bell, Executive Director, and Jerri Mathis, Director of Engagement, were thrilled to learn about the ‘Little Dresses for Africa.’ Hence a new activity was born. They JUMPED on it!

The Bethany residents, who also love sewing, have taken this project very seriously. Bringing their previous sewing and homemaking talents, they meet once a month at the Lodge at Bethany for 1 hour, gleefully with their desire to give back. Currently they have 20-25 residents that participate actively. One resident (an expert ironer), added, "It brings back wonderful memories of my home and family life, keeping house, making clothes, and ironing."

Another resident shared, ”Our hands are God's work. We love it!"

Laying the ribbon on dresses. (left to right) Lyndal Tatum and Joy Collins. Michele LeBlanc

"The dresses are simple and fun to make and knowing they mean so much to ‘the girls’ who will receive them is so rewarding,” added Murphey. "Hope, love, and caring!"

The first sewing meet-up was in November 2023, with a goal of 25 dresses. After their second month in (December) they had exceeded that goal and were on their way to making 100 dresses, a milestone they officially achieved in January 2024. Currently the residents on the 'Dresses for Africa’ team are working on the ‘second hundred!’

Regina Bell said after the first class, “Wonderful project and Wonderful ladies! Today was one for the books. These ladies are no strangers to sewing, and picking out fabrics for the skirts was the fun part."

(Left to right) Bethany Sewers: Connie Murphey, Lois Jones, Becky Mercer, Joy Collins, Sue Berman, Joan Beck, Lyndal Tatum. Michele LeBlanc

“Our wish is that the project will continue," Murphey said. "What started out as a plan for 25 dresses has grown to well over 100. We've been blessed with donations, colorful fabric, t-shirts, ribbons, and various sewing items. We invite sewers and non-sewers to join us. There is always something to help with!"

Needs (Donations are welcome!)

  • Anyone that can operate a sewing machine (currently have 1 only)
  • Seamstresses/Alterations
  • Denim for britches (Team can recycle all parts!)
  • Clothing thread, colorful fabric, ribbon
  • Willing hands that love to sew (Volunteers)
  • Financial donations (To purchase t-shirts and other miscellaneous items)

“We are grateful to have the opportunity brought to us and happy to be a small part of a wonderful mission," Regina Bell said of Bethany's contributions. "We welcome others in our community to be a part of the mission, too.”

Murphey concluded, “The ladies of Bethany have embraced the project and bring so much energy to make each dress special - as it will tell you each one is made from the heart. The cost is minimal but the value is in ‘MILLIONS!’"

Contact for More Information

The Lodge at Bethany
Regina Bell - [email protected]
Jerri Mathis- [email protected]