HARLINGEN — What started as a small initiative in the area that aimed to help girls in need, blossomed into a surge of participation that has spread to other communities around the country.

For the past 10 years, Winter Texans Pat and Leo Cassidy have been residing at Tropic Winds RV Resort in Harlingen.

One summer back home in Illinois, the couple attended a quilting class that aimed to teach quilters how to make a girl’s dress from any men’s shirt.

And through that class, they discovered Hope 4 Women International’s global campaign “Dress a Girl Around the World,” a project they felt needed to be known in the Valley.

In its third year, Pat and Leo, along with local participating quilters in Harlingen, have created close to 1,000 dresses for girls around the world.

“I feel very grateful and empowered by the community here at Tropic Winds because they really took this initiative and they ran with it,” Pat said. “They were just so overwhelmingly involved in every shape and form from sewing and ironing to tracing and cutting patterns.”

According to a press release, each dress is made from 100 percent cotton men’s dress shirts to ensure they can withstand hand-washing in rivers with rocks.

Additionally, each dress has a “Dress a Girl Around the World” label sewn onto the dress pockets.

The label is meant to warn men in the villages that the girls are protected and cared for, especially in countries where human trafficking of young girls is common.

Pat said the project has taken a different angle this year than in the past, when they hosted work days to make the dresses.

“We’ve pretty much educated everybody and they’ve taken off with the project,” Pat explained. “We have a lot of ladies outside the park that knit dresses and bring them to us.”

Pat said she has also noticed their initiative has spread “quite a bit.”

“It’s really kind of interesting because we first brought this down here from a class we took in Illinois that was pretty special,” Pat said. “We thought we would just get a little participation, which would be great.”

She said through their initiatives, many people quickly became involved with making the dresses and later became ambassadors for the nonprofit in their own communities in states such as Iowa and Missouri.

“We were overwhelmed by the amount of response,” Pat said. “People’s generosity, donations, contributions and effort — it just kind of exploded from there and eventually we gave out almost 1,000 dresses, which was really cool.”

MORE INFO

WHAT IS THE DRESS A GIRL AROUND THE WORLD CAMPAIGN?

It was created by the Hope 4 Women International nonprofit organization in 2006.

For more information visit https://www.dressagirlaroundtheworld.com/ .

Email Pat Cassidy at pfcassidy@yahoo.com to participate.