Presidential birthday fashionably fills nonprofit's closet

Published 06.25.2019

The Gallery at Penn College

In celebration of President Davie Jane Gilmour’s 65th birthday this month, more than 70 children’s dresses are being donated to Wise Options, an advocacy organization of the YWCA Northcentral PA.

The dresses highlighted a small birthday gathering in The Gallery at Penn College where the “The Hundred Dresses Project” is on exhibit through July 23. Invitations to family and close friends of the Pennsylvania College of Technology president included a copy of Eleanor Estes’ classic children’s book “The Hundred Dresses,” which inspired the current exhibition. In lieu of a gift, guests were invited to donate a child’s dress, with many bringing multiple pieces. The party also featured a dress-shaped cake.

President Davie Jane Gilmour sits in The Gallery at Penn College, surrounded by donated dresses bound for Wise Options.Gilmour shared her fondness of dresses in childhood through adulthood. “As a professional, I can appreciate the look of a well-tailored business suit or slacks, but that’s not me,” she said. “I just feel more ‘me’ in a dress.”

First published in 1944, “The Hundred Dresses” follows the story of an immigrant schoolgirl who is teased by her classmates for her accent, name, clothes and family’s poverty. The story explores themes of acceptance, inclusion, art, empathy and courage.

“The Hundred Dresses Project” has inspired a variety of community outreach, including more than 1,000 dress prints created by youngsters from six local school districts. Those prints are displayed in Penn College’s gallery along with 150 dress prints crafted by professional artists.

Another local spinoff to the overall project has been a theatrical production of “The Hundred Dresses” by Studio 570. Three performances of the show remain: 2 p.m. Wednesday, June 26, and Sunday, June 30; and 6 p.m. Thursday, June 27, in The Gallery at Penn College. Tickets are available on the Studio 570 website or at the gallery door.

Wise Options is devoted to empowering victims and survivors impacted by domestic violence, sexual assault and other violent crimes. In addition to a confidential hotline and emergency shelter open 24/7, the organization offers an array of counseling, support and educational services. Another initiative, Liberty House, offers housing to women and children experiencing homelessness; the program also focuses on life skills courses in budgeting, parenting, empowerment and healthy relationships.