March 25, 2014 // Local

Dress Drive helps women be the belles of the ball

In the photo, from left to right, are Rita Pillai and Lexi Harmacinski, organizers of the Dress Drive at Saint Joseph High School for Hannah and Friends.

By Lisa Kochanowski

SOUTH BEND — “I got involved with the dress drive because I wanted to help the girls feel special. Just as we feel special when we go to prom or midwinter, I wanted to help give them a special day, just as we have our own,” said Saint Joseph High School student Rita Pillai, co-organizer of a Dress Drive recently held at the school.

Students Rita Pillari and Lexi Harmacinski have been collecting dresses for Hannah’s Belles, a project to collect and distribute dresses to girls and women with different abilities for Hannah and Friends.

Hannah and Friends, founded by Maura and Charlie Weis, improves the quality of life for children and adults with special needs.

“We are collecting gently used dresses, all sizes (girls, juniors, misses, women’s) and all occasions (sundresses, cocktail, prom, bridesmaid, etc.) and then distributing them to girls and women with different abilities. Girls and women of all abilities deserve the opportunity to become the belle of the ball — and our hope is to not only provide a dress, but provide a great experience and remind the ladies of how beautiful they each are,” said Katie Teitgen, director of operations with Hannah and Friends.

Teitgen said, “Girls and women with different abilities were invited to Hannah and Friends on March 1 to come try on dresses and pick out a dress at no cost. There was also a craft for the guests and a photo opportunity. Several volunteers from Saint Mary’s College were present, as well as some volunteers from Kohl’s to help make it a wonderful day for the guests.”

Teitgen added, “We specifically have some fun events planned this spring for the ladies to dress up — the Indiana Miss Amazing Pageant is hosted at Hannah and Friends in March and we’re planning a Rock the Red Carpet Prom for May, but it is also a chance to give all of these girls/women the opportunity to feel beautiful and confident, come shop and pick out a dress at no cost, and have fun! We aren’t just collecting fancy dresses, we are looking for all occasions and sizes. Some of our ladies would love a dress to wear to church, for a nice lunch or maybe a summer party.”

According to co-organizer Lexi Harmacinski, the girls worked very hard to get the word out to students to donate their dresses including going on the morning announcements and having male students model dresses.

“It means a lot to me. We are helping girls who might not feel important enough. They all deserve to look and feel beautiful,” said Harmacinski.

Both girls are active volunteers for Hannah and Friends.

“At Saint Joe we are taught to go out and serve just as Christ did. When I go to do service hours I am not doing it to write the number of hours down, I am doing the hours to help the kids. As I help the kids, they help me grow closer to God and grow as a person to be kinder to those around me and be more open to peoples of different abilities,” said Pillai. “The residents, and kids, are very special, by volunteering there, I have learned to be patient, and compassionate towards everyone.”

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