The Marion Dawson Charitable Sewers at Phoebe Allentown

“It’s proven that cultures who respect women do better—socially, financially, politically,” says Dorothy Sechler, retired teacher of 35 years and “captain” of The Marion Dawson Charitable Sewers at The Terrace at Phoebe Allentown. Carefully ripping the seams from a donated fitted flannel sheet, Sechler passionately explains why ensuring young women in Africa get an education is so important and how this sewing club helps make that happen.

Initiated in 2021 by Marion Dawson, a former independent living resident of The Terrace, the sewers meet every Tuesday to create kits for the “Dignity Program,” which offers washable, handmade menstrual pads to young African women as a way to help them manage their periods allowing them to continue attending school. Created by Little Dresses for Africa (LDFA), a non-profit Christian organization that offers relief to all parts of Africa and many other countries, the “Dignity Program” is one of several initiatives supporting continued work through clean water, primary education, and community. 

Dawson’s sister, a United Church of Christ (UCC) liaison to the United Nations, discovered the LDFA organization. Dawson then brought the program to Phoebe, which is affiliated with the UCC. Unfortunately, Marion Dawson passed away shortly after the program began, but her friends and neighbors continue her meaningful work. Since 2021, they have made more than 11,000 washable sanitary pads for what is referred to as the “sani-panti” sewing project.

“We create the fabric kits and take them back to our apartments to sew the layers together,” explains Linda Luskus, a retired teacher of 23 years and founding member of the sewing group. Each pad has three absorbent layers of cotton quilt batting and a barrier fabric layer, all covered by cotton fabric. “People donate funds and fabric to us,” she adds.

Inspired by the desire to help ensure young women receive an education, this dedicated group also enjoys the time spent together. “We like to visit and work alongside each other,” says Reiko Summers, a longtime member.

“Education is so important,” says Sechler, who also volunteers in the ESL (English as a Second Language) program at the Literacy Center of the Lehigh Valley, “so is staying active and giving back to my community,” she says.

This amazing group of women, all in their 80s and 90s, are helping to inspire young women halfway around the world to make their own history—just as many of them have done and continue to do in their story-rich and compassionate lives.

To learn more about this close-knit Phoebe community, visit The Terrace at Phoebe Allentown. To donate to The Marion Dawson Charitable Sewers, visit Donate Now to Phoebe. To learn more about the “Dignity Program,” go to Little Dresses for Africa.

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