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Toledo Legal News - Fashion maven's group donates designer dresses to girls who can't afford them

 

School dresses aren't cheap, and many dresses today are far out of reach for low-income girls and their families.

This is where accomplished fashion maven Sam Sisakhti is stepping in by giving back to girls in need through his newly founded nonprofit group Believe in Yourself.

His organization is donating new designer dresses to underprivileged girls to attend prom, homecoming and other school functions with a boost of self-confidence.

"We actually just got our tax deduction, our 501(c)3 and essentially it's a charitable organization where we provide brand new dresses to underprivileged girls around the country and then at the same time bring in speakers and mentors to talk to them about believing in themselves, pursuing their dreams, anti-cyber bullying and positive body image," said Sisakhti.

Sisakhti, founder of UsTrendy, said the project grew from his online marketplace for fashion designers to sell their clothes.

"Initially I would get samples that they would give me and I used to just give them to celebrities and I was thinking you know at one point they have enough clothes so how can I make better use of these samples," he said.

This is when Sisakhti began going to low-income areas and giving out dresses and began creating contests for customers to post their photos wearing clothes from UsTrendy's site.

"The appreciation on the girls' faces was just incredible ... but during these contests we noticed some cyber-bullying going on and some negative comments, so I thought you know how do I kind of merge these two concepts together and kind of give back, and I decided to launch Believe in Yourself and I launched it formally in January," said Sisakhti.

So far, Sisakhti estimates that several thousand dresses have been donated, and he hopes to reach 10,000 by the end of the year. From the launch until just before receiving 501(c)3 credentials, Sisakhti was buying all of the dresses out of pocket.

"When I launched I didn't have the ability to accept donations," he said. "I was actually buying the dresses from my designers at a discount or I was going out and buying dresses from other retailers."

But now with the 501(c)3, he hopes to have other retailers donate brand new dresses to the project.

"I remember when I started the project a lot of the girls were saying that they've never had a new item before and they felt so amazing. This is their first new item and not a hand-me-down so we want everything to be brand new."

Currently, the project works with local Boys and Girls clubs to find girls in low-income areas such as Washington, D.C. or Chicago. The community organizers of these clubs will then compile a list of girl's first names, age and a description of what they're wanting in a dress.

And while most of the organizations are in the eastern part of the country, he hopes to go to all 50 states in the next 12 months.

This Fall, Sisakhti also launched a pilot program for Believe in Yourself to have the girls create a goal for the school year, which he envisioned creating since the project's inception, which will lead to having mentors for all of the girls involved.

"We're actually going to work with the girls throughout the year," he said.

The first donation the girls will receive a dress, and then Sisakhti wants them to give him their goal for the school year, whether that be to raising a grade in a class to joining a new club or sports team.

"We're going to try and encourage her to reach that goal and then tie donations to that forward progress," he said. "So it's just kind of about letting them know that there's someone out there that's interested and invested in them."

Along with this project, Sisakhti brings in mentors and speakers to the Boys and Girls clubs that are involved, and they vary state to state.

"But depending on which state I'm in I'll try to find people within that state that are kind of experts or have inspiring stories," he said.

And with the variations currently from state to state, Sisakhti said he realizes not as many people will be reached.

"I want to actually start streaming some of these speakers online and having people be able to sign in and listen to their talk and maybe even ask questions like in a forum setting."

Another goal Sisakhti has for Believe in Yourself is to have places set up in each state where girls can go and find a dress, some using the credits system from the previously mentioned system to track progress on their goals, and also have weekly mentoring sessions available.

"My ultimate vision is to have establishments for each state that have dresses onsite along with mentors and speakers coming through on a weekly basis."

And for anyone looking to get involved, Sisakhti says to reach out through their website, www.believeinyourself.org.

In addition to donating dresses or becoming a mentor or speaker, he also mentioned the project received its charitable certification, so the organization can now accept cash donations.

And the most rewarding aspect of running this project? Seeing the girls reactions.

"Hearing their stories about where they're going to wear the dress, along with their stories about where they've come from or what their goals are ... that's my favorite part ... interacting with the girls and seeing their reactions to the dresses."

ELISSA COLLOPY, Daily Reporter Staff Writer

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