The completed dresses, made out of donated pillowcases and bandannas.Submitted photo

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Oakton Elementary school, in partnership with the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc., donated more than one hundred dresses to the Little Dresses for Africa project on May 25. Oakton students spent the day designing and sewing dresses made from colorful pillowcases, bandanas, and ribbons, all of which will be sent to underprivileged girls in Liberia and South Africa. This is the first year that Oakton has been involved with the Little Dresses organization, and the school hopes to expand their service participation through their African-Centered Curriculum (ACC) Program.

District 65 program supervisor Jamilla Pitts said Oakton staff received a call from the Sorority a few months ago regarding their potential participation in the Little Dresses project. “Because we have the ACC project here at Oakton, and because the dresses are going to children in Liberia, I really wanted the ACC children to play a role in the project, and they wanted to invite the larger community because of course, it’s about community,” said Ms. Pitts. “[Oakton] was a natural fit.”

The ACC Program was introduced to Oakton in the 2006-2007 school year with the goal of teaching students responsibility, self-empowerment, and self-determination through the examination of historical experiences and achievements of Africans and African Americans.

“It’s been a wonderful coming together of community,” said Ms. Pitts. “While ACC is sponsoring the project, we have parent volunteers from the PTA, we have community volunteers from Alpha Kappa Alpha here, and different teachers are coming through and bringing their students. It’s really been a wonderful community effort to do some good work.”

One key community member who came to help the Oakton students and staff was Y.O.U Board member and retired Public Health Director for the City of Evanston C. Louise Brown. An active member of the Evanston Alumni chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha, Ms. Brown is also the great-grandmother of one of the current members of the sorority’s Northwestern University chapter, bridging the connection between Alpha Kappa Alpha and District 65.

Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc. says it hopes to donate a grand total of 29,000 handmade dresses through their various chapters across the nation. They will meet in Atlanta, Ga., in July for their 67th Boule (gathering), during which the dresses will be collected, counted, and transported to Liberia and South Africa via representatives of the sorority.

“We were looking for a service project for our school, and we thought this would be a great contribution. We won’t make 29,000 dresses, but we can do our part,” said Oakton Assistant Principal Dr. Deborah Osher. “I think that’s the greatest thing to start to teach kids you don’t have to do everything, but do your part. We always tell kids, ‘Do your part in school, do your part here in the community.’”

In terms of expanding the school’s service participation, Dr. Osher said, “We are looking at new opportunities for Oakton. Mr. Williams and I are both new to Oakton this year, but we’ve both been involved in the community. We’re looking at opportunities for us to be more of a service-learning school.”

“[We are] promoting that self-awareness and also that global awareness – we should never take for granted the things that we have,” said Dr. Osher about Oakton’s involvement in Little Dresses for Africa. Ms. Pitts added, “We’re not just sending dresses, we’re sending hope. When somebody receives something beautiful, that really is a affirming of them as a person, and that’s another part of what we believe is really important for the children to understand.”

More about the Little Dresses for Africa program is available at http://www.littledressesforafrica.org/blog/.