Little Dresses for Africa

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Jeanette Gronda has sewn over 120 dresses for little girls in Malawi.   Photos by Jane Fijal, Grosse Ile Profile

Good Works

IN A WORLD where too many children go wanting, one local woman is using a lifetime of skill to do her part.

Jeanette Gronda, Grosse Ile resident of over 50 years, says she was reading The Detroit News a few years ago when she saw an article about an organization helping girls in Africa and other impoverished countries.

Little Dresses for Africa (LDfA) was founded in 2008 by Rachel O’Neill of Brownstown Township as a non-profit Christian organization. Their mission is to give little girls homemade dresses to show them they are worthy, and to help identify areas of need in their villages.

God had plans for me and blessed me with a good life, being able to give in many ways.

Jeanette Gronda

“Never having daughters of my own to sew for, this was a perfect fit,” wrote Mrs. Gronda, “so I thought, now’s my chance to make dresses for little girls.”

As a child, Mrs. Gronda battled juvenile rheumatoid arthritis and not expected to walk. In spite of the pain, with treatment and physical therapy given by her mother, Mrs. Gronda says she overcame the odds. These struggles encouraged her to pursue an education in nursing as a way to give back.

Growing up on a farm in Illinois, Mrs. Gronda joined 4-H, where she learned to sew. Over the years, she earned a BSN, then an MSA, married and raised three sons. She continued to sew in her free time and endeavored to make five lap blankets for nursing home residents during Lent in place of giving something up.

Through hard work, Mrs. Gronda became the clinical director for Henry Ford Health System’s Home Health Care. Today, they give two annual employee recognition awards in her honor. On top of this, Mrs. Gronda participated in various other health and educational programs. Her busy schedule kept sewing to a minimum.

Retirement didn’t slow down the woman who fought so hard to gain mobility early in life. She continued to teach as a substitute, traveled as a Road Scholar, wrote for non-medical magazines and even self-published a children’s book called Uh, Oh, Boo Boo! She also began sewing lap blankets again and eventually for LDfA.

Beginning with pillowcases, the suggested pattern for novices, Mrs. Gronda quickly moved onto more difficult patterns. So far, she has sewn over 120 dresses as well as reusable sanitary napkins so the young women can continue attending school during their cycle. Mrs. Gronda says, “I never in my life thought I’d be sewing sanitary pads.” 

The finished dresses are sent to Malawi, one of the world’s least-developed countries, where many of the girls own nothing. Although Mrs. Gronda has never seen a little girl wearing one of her dresses, she says, “I really, really, would like to. When I go online and look at the pictures, I’m always looking to see if any of the dresses look familiar to me.”

Mrs. Gronda continues to sew, using materials she finds on sale, or from donation. Plans for future projects include “fidget” blankets that have zippers, snaps and other items attached to help dementia patients keep their hands busy.

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