A new Family and Consumer Sciences course at Stow-Munroe Falls High School will include a service project to help provide dresses to girls in Africa.

The new semester-long course is Textiles and Interior Design and teacher Jennette Wilch is having her students make dresses for Michigan-based non-profit Little Dresses For Africa, the motto of which is, "We're not just sending dresses, we're sending hope."

Wilch said she has known about Little Dresses for Africa since 2014, but there was no way to integrate the service project into the curriculum since any type of textiles/sewing had been phased out at the high school level years ago. However, with the popularity of reality TV shows such as "Project Runway," "Project Runway Junior," and other design shows, there is once again a demand for basic sewing skills and design. This demand resulted in the Ohio Department of Education revisiting the Family and Consumer Sciences curriculum and adding this course as well as other new courses that are being offered at SMFHS, said Wilch.

"The students seem to have really embraced this service project. For the majority of the students, this is their first sewing experience, and they are really conscientious about how the project is going together and looking at each stage." said Wilch.

Wilch is working with local Little Dresses for Africa volunteer Brenda Walko.

"Showing the students how to make a dress has been a lot of fun," said Walko.

The fall semester students made a total of 50 dresses, which was the goal that was set, with Katie Roszkowski making four dresses, Olivia Balawender and Jadyn Straley each making three, and the rest of the students helping the cause with one or two each. During the current semester, Abrielle Harrison has turned out four dresses by herself, plus Taylor Shark, Maggie Martin, Mya Cannon and Megan Merda have made three each. The goal for the spring semester class was also 50 dresses.

"I think my favorite part about this project is that I get to make a dress for someone in need and that feels good that someone will be wearing a dress that I made," said Martin.

Shark said, "When I heard about this project I was really excited because we get to learn how to make dresses for little girls in Africa so it's nice knowing that I'm making a dress for someone that can actually use it."

Wilch said the project helps fulfill the educational mission of the class as well.

"The Little Dresses for Africa Project is a great way for students to learn simple sewing techniques such as joining a seam, making a casing that will hold elastic, machine hemming, and working with bias tapes to finish an edge." said Wilch, adding that the students are exposed to production sewing techniques, something Wilch has experience with from working as an instructor/counselor in a social service organization that made clothing for the disabled.

Student Amy Jagger said, "I was really excited about this project because I was glad I could help someone who really needed a dress. I was nervous at first because I don't know how to sew so that was something for me to learn."

According to Wilch, Little Dresses for Africa will continue to be part of the Textiles and Interior Design course. She said it is a great way to get students involved in a worthwhile service project while learning a fun and valuable skill.

Walko said that all of the fabric used is donated by members of the community and she is looking for volunteers to make dresses.

"In addition to working with the students, I like getting the community involved and there are a lot of volunteers, especially women," said Walko.

Those interested in donating fabric or receiving a kit with materials for making 10 to 12 dresses can contact Walko by email at brenda.walko@gmail.com.

Go to www.littledressesforafrica.org for more information about the organization.

Go to https://www.youtube.com/user/StowSentry for a video about the class project.

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