Little Black Dress Initiative to raise awareness of poverty

Junior League of Gainesville-Hall County partnering with Habitat for Humanity

By Kristen Oliver, Gainesville Times

It’s considered a closet staple.

Pick up any fashion magazine, and it likely has a page telling women they need a little black dress.

But there are women across the planet, across the state and throughout Gainesville who are lacking much more than their own little black dress.

The Junior League of Gainesville-Hall County is partnering with Habitat for Humanity of Hall County to bring the inaugural Little Black Dress Initiative to Hall County the week of Feb. 15-19.

The purpose is to shed light on local poverty and the issues of low-income housing.

“The participants wear a single black dress — or appropriate black attire for non-dress wearers like health care workers — for the entire week,” said Ann Nixon, executive director of Habitat for Humanity of Hall County. “It is not washed as the week progresses.”

The dress represents the limited choices and limited resources of a person living in poverty, said Havolynne Saxon, president-elect of the Junior League of Gainesville-Hall County.

Nixon said the partnership between the Junior League and Habitat is a natural one.

“The Junior League is a leadership organization that is all about empowering the younger women in our community to take active roles in making our community stronger,” she said. “While Habitat for Humanity is not an organization that is targeted at women, 90 percent of the Habitat homeowners in Hall County are women, most single parents with young children. These women are similarly taking an active role in improving their lives by seeking stability and safety through home ownership.”

The Little Black Dress Initiative started two years ago with the Junior League in London.

“They wanted to set a goal to ‘make poverty unfashionable,’” Saxon said. “So they set it the same week as London Fashion Week, and Junior League members pledged to wear the same black dress for five days, to demonstrate the limited resources of those living in poverty and the effects it can have.”

Last year, a Junior League president from Atlanta asked to bring the initiative over to the U.S. Saxon said more than 10 chapters in Georgia are running their own initiatives this year.

“Each league has used the funds raised in different ways,” she said. “We chose to use the funds raised from this initiative to donate to Habitat for Humanity of Hall County.”

The initiative has two purposes: raising awareness of local poverty and fundraising for an organization, like Habitat, that does something about it.

Saxon said participants are asked to take part in a social media fundraising effort the week leading up to the initiative. They will reach out to family, friends and co-workers, letting them know about the fundraiser and asking for support and donations.

Then women will don their little black dresses with a button that reads “ask me about my black dress.”

Nixon said the button prompts conversations that will hopefully include short facts about poverty housing and hopefully spreading a desire to support the initiative financially.

She said it is a “short, focused, arrow-sharp fundraising effort that begins and ends within seven days.”

Participants do not have to be members of the league. Saxon said several Habitat employees and volunteers will participate and anyone in the community is welcome to join the effort.

“We’ve actually partnered with Dress Up Boutique, and the Saturday before our initiative launches, Feb. 13, they will be hosting an in-store event,” she said. “They will have their employees wearing a black dress and helping us with awareness.”

The Junior League has also partnered with Centennial Arts Academy. Several teachers and students are participating.

“One day, they will do a hat day and kids will pay a dollar to wear a hat that day,” Saxon said. “Then that Friday, the whole school is going to do a black-out.”

A fifth-grade student at the school is also organizing a food donation and clothing drive event for Feb. 20 with the help of a teacher who is in the league.

“It was the student’s idea,” Saxon said. “She wanted to do a community outreach project, and it was right when we were getting this in the works.”

Tap It Gainesville Growlers will host a Stiletto & Studs Girls Night Out from 6-9 p.m. Feb. 18 benefiting Habitat’s Women Build program.

Nixon said she hopes the initiative will be successful, not only because Habitat will be the recipient of its efforts, but because of the critical need for low-income housing in Gainesville.

Saxon said the league hopes to make this an annual initiative.

“This is our very first awareness campaign,” she said. “It’s the first time we’ve ever done anything like this. We’re really hoping, with the partnership with Habitat, we can take this to a new level and that we will set a good precedent this year. We want it to grab people’s attention so that each year they become more aware of what’s going on.”

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