- Sponsorship -

Project’s About More Than Just a Dress

As they made dresses for girls in Africa, Caledonia schools and its community were a perfect example of “it takes a village.”

“I enjoy getting to do something for people you don’t even know — complete strangers are helping you,” said Alexander Smith, an eighth-grader who helped make the dresses.

Students found out new things about their feelings and their futures through the project. One said it soothed her nerves, and another said it made her think about becoming a fashion designer.

Jesse VanSolkema talked about watching his grandmother sew. “She just passed away, and now I have a chance to do this with the supplies she left us,” he said.

Harlei Mansfield and Sasha Grimes show what finished pillowcase dresses look like

The project began in the 2014-2015 school year when the high school Kiwanis Key Club started collecting pillowcases and raising funds for a non-profit organization called Little Dresses for Africa. Making dresses out of pillowcases to send to Africa is one of its major projects.

Duncan Lake and Kraft Meadows middle schools’ Kiwanis Builders Clubs got involved next. More teachers and students came on board, and an eighth-hour class of sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade students started sewing the dresses using 10 sewing machines purchased with grant money from the Caledonia Education Foundation.

The school district’s Transitions program, which teaches job skills to special need students graduating from high school, raised more than $125 selling Valentine candy grams. That money was used to cover costs of additional sewing supplies and shipping. Supplies and assistance also were donated by the Caledonia Kiwanis Club.

The dresses were finished off with iron-on transfers made from artwork created by the two middle school Builders’ Club groups. The Builder’s and Key clubs — both sponsored by the local Kiwanis Club — are leadership programs which meet throughout the school year.

It all came together without any specific plan, just group after group stepping up to help, which leaders said wasn’t a surprise given the generosity of the Caledonia schools and community.

Science teacher Michelle Krentz taught the class how to sew the dresses. A little obstacle did pop up for her when students in the class gathered for the first time: Many didn’t know how to sew. Krentz taught them how, and 26 dresses were made during the seven-week class which ended in mid-March.

“I didn’t know what to expect,” Krentz said. “I thought if they made five dresses it’d be a miracle.”

While the Little Dresses for Africa website says making a pillowcase dress is fairly simple, the students with no sewing experience didn’t always agree with that statement. Keeping a straight stitch was one of the difficult parts for for Jesse a. “Dealing with the pedal,” was, too, he said.

Krentz plans to work with students next fall on more dresses. “I loved watching the kids do this for others,” she said. “Who would think a pillowcase nobody wanted is now going to be a dress for a little girl to help her be able to go to school.”

Besides learning about working together, the students came away with a new skill. “Every student now has a little bit of sewing experience,” Krentz said.

If you would like to donate pillowcases, they can be dropped off at Kraft Meadows Middle School, 9230 Kraft Ave. SE, Caledonia.


Pillow case Pattern

Caledonia Transition Program

Little Dresses for Africa

- Sponsorship -
Linda Odette
Linda Odette
Linda Odette is a freelance writer and editor with more than 30 years of experience in journalism. She’s worked primarily as an editor in feature departments at newspapers in West Michigan, including the Grand Rapids Press, the Muskegon Chronicle and the Holland Sentinel. She lives in East Grand Rapids near the Eastown edge, has a teenage son and a daughter in college. Read Linda's full bio or email Linda.


Vaccine trial participant: ‘I really want to get back to normal’

Orchestra teacher and cellist Eric Hudson longs for the days when he can direct student musicians in concerts and tours and play in his own ensemble once again. To help speed that process along, he is participating in a COVID-19 vaccine trial...

Longtime agriscience teacher earns honorary FFA degree

After 24 years of teaching, John Schut believes incorporating fun and service into education is more engaging for students than taking notes in a classroom...

Stress, studies and the pandemic: a steep learning curve

In response to the social and emotional impacts brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, Rockford’s Developing Healthy Kids Campaign wants students and families to know they are not alone...

Health Department helps schools tackle challenges of instruction, during winter, in a pandemic

Working with the health department has been crucial in helping area school leaders understand the nature of COVID-19, the types of mitigation strategies that can be most effective and how to plan for the future...


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Related Articles

Longtime agriscience teacher earns honorary FFA degree

After 24 years of teaching, John Schut believes incorporating fun and service into education is more engaging for students than taking notes in a classroom...

Senior Scouts return to grade school, sprinkling kindness

Four former Dutton Elementary students are using their platform as Girl Scouts to inspire kindness in younger generations of Wildcats...

Major factor in school closings: evidence of virus spread

While the Kent County Health Department is working hard with superintendents to keep schools open, sometimes closing is the best way to mitigate spread...
- Sponsorship -


Engagement: The Most Important Measure of Student Success

Polls find that students’ engagement in their school work declines as they ascend the grades. Tests that don’t relate to their real-life experiences exacerbate the problem...


Food ‘angels’ support hungry kids through pandemic

They work all across Kent County, guardian angels with peanut butter on their hands and crumbs on their shirtsleeves...
- Sponsorship -


Maranda Where You LiveWGVU