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Chappaqua Mom To ‘Empower’ Kenyan Women With Pillowcases

Michelle Campbell, founder of the Pillowcase Project, and some of the orphans in Kipingi Village. Photo Credit: Provided
Kari Weis, left, and Lori Norman are longtime friends from high school who will be doing the Pillowcase Project together. Photo Credit: Provided
The Pillowcase Project will aim to empower women in Western Kenya. Photo Credit: Provided

CHAPPAQUA, N.Y. – Chappaqua resident Kari Weis will join 15 other people in September on a trip to Western Kenya in an attempt to “empower women and give them ownership of their lives.”

How the group will take on such a challenge might come as a surprise: pillowcases.

“We will be hand delivering dresses made out of pillowcases to the girls in a small village and, more importantly, we bring them additional pillowcases with supplies and teach them how to make and sell the dresses themselves,” said Weis.

Weis said the group’s goal is to bring 200 pillowcase-dresses for Kenyan orphans in the village, along with 80 bags of pillowcases and supplies. Altogether, the final tally about 1,800 pillowcases, 1,200 packets of extra wide double bias tape, 80 packets of sewing needles, 80 sewing scissors, and various other sewing supplies.

Weis stumbled upon the “Pillowcase Project” in a recent high school reunion, where her friend Lori Norman—an American Airlines flight attendant—informed her of the trip. Norman learned of the project from its founder Michelle Campbell, who is also an American Airlines flight attendant, and also an orphan until she was three years old.

“The moment I heard about it, I knew I had to be part of it,” she said.

The Pillowcase Project is in its “early stages,” as Weis noted the group is still in the midst of applying to become an official nonprofit. Fourteen women, including Weis, and two men will all be paying their own way to Kipingi Village and Bugo Village, in addition to many supplies.

But the hope is their communities lend a hand as well.

Weis knows Chappaqua is no stranger to charities and has been encouraged by early collections. Local merchants Dawn Greenberg of Aurora fair-trade gift shop at 1 King Street, and Jodi Levine of Jodi’s Gym in Mount Kisco, both have put out baskets for the project.

“They are both collecting pillowcases, sewing supplies, and even hand drawn pictures that are brightly colored for the kids over there to look at,” said Weis. "They're both awesome."

Local merchants aren’t the only ones pitching in.

“My second grade daughter asked for donations in her class at Westorchard Elementary and I’m pretty sure she’s already collected more pillowcases than I have,” she said.

Weis said her biggest goal of the trip—and the project—is that it becomes a gift that keeps giving, even when the group returns back to the United States.

“This project is about empowering these women—giving them the tools and skills to take ownership of their lives and be self sustainable. That’s why I’m doing it,” she said. “We’re not just taking aid and leaving it there. This goes beyond that.”

And she knows her network in Chappaqua is a great resource to support such a cause.

“What I love about this community is that even though we are all so blessed, we all love to give back,” she said.

To learn more about the Pillowcase Project and how you can get involved, visit its Facebook page and its Amazon wish list .

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