July 25, 2014  

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“Dresses of Hope’ Southern Miss Student’s Philanthropy

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Kelly Liles

Kelly Liles is turning fashion despair into hope.

Liles, a University of Southern Mississippi freshman biological sciences major, started “Dresses of Hope” in the summer of 2010.The nonprofit organization provides formal attire to young women in financial need.  

The idea came from the national organization Donate My Dress, though Liles found there were no chapters for the organization in Mississippi. She was only a junior in high school at Oak Grove when she saw the need in her community and decided to fill the void. 

The donated dresses are arranged in a fashion shop-style setting at local schools, churches and community buildings. The girls can come in and walk away with a free dress at what Liles calls “boutique days” that they can wear for special occasions, such as proms or other events requiring formal wear.

Liles had not come up with a name for the initiative until her first shopper came in. “The dress fit perfectly and the girl’s mother teared up and said ‘This gives us hope,’ and right then I knew we had our name,” she said.

The dresses are donated from women all over the community who may have a dress or two in the back of their closet they know they’ll unlikely wear again. Liles has received generous support in the form of donations from groups at Southern Miss, including the Honors College, Sigma Alpha Iota, the College Pan-Hellenic Council, and the National Pan-Hellenic Council, as well as area high schools and area churches.

In addition to dresses, Liles received a $200 grant from the Junior Auxiliary to purchase dresses so that every shape and size could benefit from her organization. In order to find those in need, she meets with school counselors and community leaders to identify potential recipients.

Since starting Dresses of Hope, Liles has seen the wonders a nice dress can do for a young woman’s self-esteem. “Every girl should get the chance to feel pretty and special, no matter what their financial status is,” she said

Of the approximately 350 dresses donated to Dresses of Hope, 141 have been matched and provided to grateful young women to wear on the night of their special occasion. Liles is adamant about staying involved in the philanthropy as it grows, and loves to see the impact of the donations on donor and recipient.

“Sometimes it’s hard for them (donors) to part with the dress, but they know it’s going to a good cause,” she said. “Then I get to report back to them and say how happy one girl was to get the dress. It makes it worthwhile for everyone involved.”

For more information about Dresses of Hope, e-mail Liles at dressesofhope@gmail.com.