Thursday, December 24, 2015

Merry Christmas + Free Art Download

Merry Christmas!! I love this time of year--the Christmas music, festive decorations, parties, holiday movies, and all the memories of Christmas past. Plus, let's be honest, exchanging gifts is really fun! I love seeing the look on people's faces when they open a gift they really like and weren't expecting.

I've also been having fun creating new art pieces this season, both for myself and in connection with Dressember. I love recreating the feelings, quotes, and lyrics of the season in handmade artwork. I'm also looking forward to bringing some new styles and designs to my Etsy shop next year!

Until then, I'm sharing a little piece of Christmas art with all of you as a gift and way to wish you a merry Christmas! Thank you for being one of my readers this year! This free downloadable PDF was hand-lettered by me in black gouache (I have a thing for black and white). It prints out nicely on an 8.5 x 11" piece of paper, white or colored, perfect for making your space festive or sharing with friends! Enjoy!


Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Dressember: Clarisa's Story


Her Innocence Made Her an Easy Target

Clarisa* was rescued from sexual exploitation in one of IJM’s first-ever cases in the Dominican Republic. The team first met her in October 2014, and she shared how she had been assaulted by one man despite her resistance—and then how he sold her to another man, who assaulted her again. Both suspects threatened to hurt Clarisa or her family if she dared to tell anyone.

Clarisa is one of nine siblings, raised in a poor and very dangerous neighborhood in Santo Domingo, the capital city. So many girls are left vulnerable to abuse here, but Clarisa even more so. She’s 14 but, due to a developmental disability, Clarisa experiences the world much like a 6-year-old does.

Clarisa’s innocence made her easy prey for a man who targeted children in this slum. This man cornered her and assaulted her—perhaps many times over the course of a year—and then allegedly sold her to a friend. IJM later learned he has a reputation for pimping young girls, and we have no idea what other plans he was making to profit from Clarisa’s abuse.

Her mother, Alma,* was deeply hurt and confused as she watched her sweet, helpful daughter become angry and aloof. Clarisa would disappear for days at a time out of fear, and Alma had no idea why. When she discovered the horrifying reason, Alma ran to authorities, desperate for help.

IJM partnered with local anti-trafficking police to arrest these abusers just days later. This is certainly a victory—but the case is not over yet.

The days immediately following a rescue can be some of the most dangerous for a girl like Clarisa. If released on bail, these dangerous men could have easily found Clarisa’s family and exacted revenge. IJM worked with police for 48 hectic hours to gather the evidence needed to keep them in custody, where they remain today. (Read more about the arrest here.)

A New Beginning

For the first time in her life, Clarisa is going to school and getting the medical care she needs. She celebrated her birthday this summer surrounded by the staff at an aftercare home as well as her mother and an IJM social worker.

“Not only was Clarisa rescued, but her mother is now at peace,” explains IJM’s casework director Jessica, “Though it is painful for her to say goodbye at the center, she encourages her daughter that it is in her best interest that she is there healing. When Clarisa shared with us what she is learning and doing, her mother was smiling proudly.”

The story will continue, but each visit with Clarisa brings hope.

Jessica says of a recent visit, “When we visited Clarisa this week, she still tells us spontaneous
stories, but now these stories are about how she is doing in school. She showed us her notebook and the homework she has done, all with a beautiful smile on her face.”
*Survivors' names are changed for their protection.
The content of this blog post was provided by the Dressember Foundation.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Dressember: Week Three Recap

I can't believe there is a little over one week of Dressember left! The countdown is on with only 10 days remaining! So far we've rallied together to raise $1,165 for my campaign and over $520,000 collectively for the Dressember Foundation (as of publication)!! For both my campaign and the campaign at large, we are a little over half-way to the goal.

I feel like this is crunch time. With only $835 left to raise, I would love to finish as strong as we started. To hopefully make this final stretch a great one, I'm hosting some final incentives! Here's the deal:

For each person who donates to my campaign December 21-31, $1 will be donated to the campaign, up to $50. So by donating, you will help raise even more money! Also, to each of those donors who provide their address, a surprise gift will be sent! Plus it's not too late to sponsor a dress with your $20+ gift!

Thank you for your consideration, your support, and keeping up with this cause. I look forward to seeing what we can do together!

Day Fifteen

Dress sponsor: Katie
 About the look: The Dressember Dress is back! (It's also available as an option in the catalog if you sponsor a dress!) This time I paired it with my folklore sweater, black tights, and booties.
Fundraising Stats: Total raised on day 15, $25. Grand total, $1,140.

Day Sixteen

Dress Worn in Honor of: My Mom, Sue Ann
About the look: Dec. 16 is my mom's birthday, so I decided to wear the day's dress in her honor. I chose one of the dresses from the catalog that I hadn't worn yet, option K. I paired it with a boyfriend cardigan, ponte pants, wool socks (not pictured), and boots. I had to leave my anorak coat on because it got pretty cold today!
Fundraising Stats: Total raised, $1,140.

Day Seventeen

Dress Worn in Honor of: Families who have lost loved ones to human trafficking
About the look: This is dress E from the catalog layered under a wool sweater with leggings, knee-high socks and boots.
Fundraising Stats: Total raised, $1,140.

Day Eighteen


Dress Worn in Honor & Memory of: My Grandpas
About the look: This is dress H from the catalog, the last dress to be warn! (Although dress J hasn't been featured yet, I wore it for a Christmas party last week). This is a comfy t-shirt dress, so I added a boyfriend cardigan and giant wool scarf on top and ponte pants, wool socks and boots on the bottom.
Fundraising Stats: Total raised on day 18, $15. Grand total, $1,155.

Day Nineteen

About the look: This is dress D from the catalog, layered with an open cardigan, printed scarf, grey tights and boots.
Fundraising Stats: Total raised, $1,155.

Day Twenty

Dress sponsors: My Parents, Tom and Sue Ann
 About the look: This dress was selected from the catalog (option G) by my parents! I paired it with a cardigan, grey sweater tights, and taupe booties.
Fundraising Stats: Total raised on day 20, $10. Grand total, $1,165.

Day Twenty-One

 About the look: It's been getting strangely warmer out so I brought back this maxi dress, pairing it with a burgundy cardigan and booties.
Fundraising Stats: As of hitting publish part-way through day 21, the current total is $1,165. But it's not too late to donate today!

Friday, December 18, 2015

Dressember: Anna's Story


Throughout her childhood, Anna had seen a great deal of poverty and sickness in Eastern Europe.

The future was never certain, but instead of allowing the constant struggle to numb her from a young age, the pain she saw actually inspired her to the point where she dreamed of becoming a nurse. As a result of her formative years, she wanted nothing more than to grow up and be able to soothe the pain of others.

And so, one day, when her cousin came to visit, Anna sat down and shared this vision to make a difference and help those in need.  After listening to Anna’s aspirations, her beloved older cousin encouraged her to pursue her dreams and suggested that she should move to Greece to study. She convinced Anna that there were a lot more career opportunities in Greece, compared to her home country.

Anna wasn't aware of it, but her father and uncle were in the next room listening to the plans for the future take place. They eventually interrupted the conversation and wholeheartedly encouraged her to go as well.

Surprised, but also overjoyed at their support, Anna, accompanied by her cousin, prepared to travel to Greece for study. She had no way of knowing she was walking into a trap set up by people she thought she could trust.

Upon arriving in Greece, her cousin told her that she owed her €6,000 for the travel arrangements and that Anna was to be put to work as a sex slave to pay off her debt. Feeling betrayed and confused, Anna refused and fought as hard as she could to escape. As a number of dark shadows approached her, she kicked and screamed but no one heard her cries.

The dream she had of helping people and alleviating their pain was quickly being replaced by an inconceivable nightmare. She was beaten, chained to a bed and raped. It quickly became clear to her that the life she came to Greece for was far from the reality she had just stepped into.  

There was no escape from the 40-50 clients she was forced to serve each day. Emptied of the fight within her, Anna gave in to the horror of her new life and was held as a slave for two years. 

However, on a day like any other, she was rescued in a police raid and brought to the A21 shelter. She was immediately given access to medical care, but the workers at the shelter knew that the psychological trauma was going to take a lot longer to heal.  

Three years later, after receiving help and support in the A21 safe house and transition home, Anna’s passion to make a difference in the world was reignited. With assistance, she applied and was accepted into nursing school in her home country. She just finished up her third semester, and is finally living out her dream! 

We are so proud of Anna! Together, we are seeing tragedy turned to triumph.

The content of this blog post was provided by the Dressember Foundation. 

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Dressember: Charina's Story


"Now we can help other girls."


Charina* is one of the first young women to stand and walk to the front of the room to sign her name to the bill of rights. She is proud of the declarations she and the other girls have written together: I have the right to be loved. I have the right to live peacefully. I have the right to my own body. I have the right to express my feelings. 

Charina, 20, is participating in a meeting with the Reintegration Support Network, a support group for trafficking survivors. The network is an innovative partnership between IJM Cebu and the local government. Government social workers, staff from IJM and volunteers from the community provide medical and psychosocial support. The young women received trauma-focused care in aftercare shelters, and they have now returned to their home communities. The support network offers them a chance to keep learning about topics that promote psychosocial well-being and healthy living.

Charina was one of two girls rescued in IJM’s first undercover operation in 2007. IJM investigators had been building a case against the pimp, who was notorious for selling young girls to men for sex. Charina was only 15 years old, but she looked even younger. The pimp exploited her youthful looks, selling her for sex to the men who were willing to pay a higher price for younger girls to abuse.

Charina was all too familiar with the routine on the streets. Pimps sold the younger girls and women; prostitutes stood on corners of the street or waited by the pier for customers to drive by to negotiate a price. So Charina thought it was just another night when a pimp told her that she would go to a hotel along with a couple other girls for a private party.

But it was not just another night: The men negotiating with the pimp were undercover police. They were not interested in abusing Charina; they were there to free her.

At first Charina was confused. IJM aftercare staff was on the scene to accompany Charina and the other girls and women to the police station. The IJM social workers explained what was happening and reassured the girls that they were not in trouble.  Charina and two of the girls were taken to an aftercare shelter, where they received crisis care and counseling.

But after years of trauma and learning to survive on her own, building trust was extremely difficult.

After her father died when she was a young girl, Charina had been sent to live with her grandmother. Aside from the abusive and angry visits from Charina’s mother, the home was warm and loving – but very poor. Although Charina’s grandmother sold small rice cakes, a popular Filipino snack food, there was never enough.

After completing fourth grade, Charina dropped out of school. Eager for acceptance and desperate for an escape from the hardship that had defined her young life, Charina started hanging out with a rough crowd. These new friends introduced her to drugs, and before long her own mother decided it was time for Charina to start earning some money. Charina was 13 years old when she was first sold for sex. Two years later, she became pregnant and endured a painful miscarriage.

When she was rescued, Charina was three months pregnant, struggling with drug addiction and very hesitant to receive support from IJM social workers. She saw the rules of the aftercare shelter as a threat to the independence she had been forced to learn at such a young age. She resisted the counselors and attempted to run away.

Despite Charina’s initial resistance, IJM staff remained determined to connect Charina with the resources and services she needed. “We knew we did not want to give up,” says IJM Director of Aftercare Mae Sampani.

IJM was able to place Charina in a detox center, where she received the help she needed to overcome drug addiction. During that time, the team faithfully visited her. They began to see Charina transform. Charina started to believe that someone actually cared for her.

Charina endured many challenges during that time. She had to move to several different aftercare homes. After a fire burned one of the shelters to the ground, Charina moved back to her home community. It was earlier than ideal, but her IJM social worker walked closely with her during the ordeal. After many months of consistent support, Charina started to trust. She overcame her substance abuse and started to rebuild relationships. Charina started to hope.

IJM seeks to provide holistic restoration for trafficking survivors.  Social workers help the young women heal by offering practical resources and providing trauma-focused counseling. But there is not one treatment or time line that works for everyone. The social workers make a long-term commitment to each survivor who participates in IJM’s aftercare program, committing to walk the difficult road together.

The men who tried to sell Charina in 2007 were charged under the Philippines’ anti-trafficking law. The trial progressed slowly, illustrating the delays and obstacles that have been endemic to the system—but are slowly starting to change. IJM lawyers have supported the case, persevering through numerous postponed or canceled hearings.

Charina courageously chose to testify in court against the suspects. She is eager to see justice in her case because she knows she is worth it. The trial finally ended in June 2014 with convictions against the traffickers.

Today, Charina is a strong young mother, determined to give her son the opportunities she should have had herself. With help from her counselors, Charina is making plans to return to school or receive specific vocational training. Charina says she will give anything in her power to protect her son.

At a Reintegration Support Network meeting, Charina stood before the group of other trafficking survivors and counselors. She described how much her life has changed since her rescue. “I am happy and thankful for the positive changes in my life,” she said confidently. “If I was not rescued, I would still be standing over there,” she said, pointing in the direction of the pier where she had once been routinely sold and exploited. Charina described how she has learned to respect others and respect herself. She looked around the room of fellow survivors and said, “Now we can help other girls.”
*Survivors' names are changed for their protection.

The content of this blog post was provided by the Dressember Foundation. 

Monday, December 14, 2015

Dressember: Week Two Recap

We're coming up on the half-way point of Dressember after a really great weekend thanks to more generous donors who pushed us over half-way to the $2,000 goal. We have now raised over $1,100 for my campaign and over $417,000 for the whole Dressember campaign.

When I set my goal last Dressember, I thought it was huge and somewhat unreachable. There were lots of days that went by when no one donated and I thought we wouldn't make it. But in the end, we did, and it was awesome!

This year I set a bigger goal because I wanted to challenge myself to do more, to work harder, and to ask my donors to do more. Plus with two organizations to support this time, I wanted to raise twice the money. Just like last year, there are days when I think we won't make it to the goal, which really is fine. In the end, it's not about the goal, even though sometimes it can be easy to fixate on that. It's about changing lives, raising awareness, making a difference. Together, we are already doing that and hopefully will continue to do it.

So once again, thank you for coming along side me in this effort! I feel so encouraged and inspired to keep going strong toward the goal. We still have two weeks left to raise $885. We can totally do this!

Day Eight

Dress sponsor: Cami
 About the look: This dress was selected from the catalog (option C) by Cami. This is a popular dress, so you'll be seeing it again! For its Dressember debut, I paired it with a heart-patterned cardigan, leggings, and ankle boots.
Fundraising Stats: Total raised, $915.

Day Nine

Dress sponsors: Nick and me
 About the look: Since Nick and I donated to Dressember, I figured we could pick a dress too. Plus I was wanting to go a little bit comfy for a Christmas shopping expedition. :) This dress is option D from the catalog. I paired it with my army green jacket, a leopard print scarf, ponte pants, and boots.
Fundraising Stats: Total raised, $915.

Day Ten

Dress sponsor: Janice
 About the look: This dress was selected from the catalog (option I) by Janice. I love leopard print with berry tones, so I paired it with a bright magenta-purple scarf, open cardigan, leggings, and boots.
Fundraising Stats: Total raised, $915.

Day Eleven

Dress sponsors: Jessica and Matt
 About the look: This dress was selected from the catalog (option A) by my boo thang, Jessica. I paired the thick sweater dress with "lighter" options like tights, long necklaces, and topped the look off with boots.
Fundraising Stats: Total raised, $915.

Day Twelve

Dress sponsor: Claudia
 About the look: This dress was selected from the catalog (option C) by Claudia. It was a warm day so I paired this dress with a leopard print scarf, grey tights, and booties.
Fundraising Stats: Total raised on day 12, $100. Grand total, $1,015. We passed the half-way point on this day!

Day Thirteen

Dress sponsor: Jan
 About the look: This dress was selected from the catalog (option L) by Jan. This time around, I styled this floral print dress with a burgundy boyfriend cardigan, ponte pants, boots, and delicate accessories.
Fundraising Stats: Total raised on day 13, $100. Grand total, $1,115.

Day Fourteen

Dress sponsors: Tim and Angie
 About the look: This dress was selected from the catalog (option B) by my friend Angie. I paired this LBD with a lightweight cardigan, an infinity scarf, tights, and boots.
Fundraising Stats: Total raised as of publication, $1,115, but it's not too late to donate! Plus I'm looking for more dress sponsors as I only have a few left!

Donate now  |  Visit my Dressember Page

Friday, December 11, 2015

Dressember: Survivors of Sex Trafficking Share What it Means to be Beautiful


Every twenty-something woman has ideas on what it means to be beautiful. A small group of young women gathered in Mumbai, India take turns musing, each one wearing a different palate of bright colors.

“Even if I put on make-up but am not pretty inside, it’s a waste of make-up!” exclaims Saba*, as she holds a corner of her green scarf in her hand and waves it as she speaks. “Women can be beautiful with make-up and without; inner beauty is also important.”

Two other young women in the group explain how they view this inner beauty. “I should keep good feelings for others,” one says; another adds, “If God helped us, blessed us, then inner beauty is to help others.”

These simple statements about finding beauty by helping others are remarkable. Less than two months ago, these four women were in desperate need of help themselves: They were trapped inside a brothel in Asia’s largest red-light district.

Since they were rescued, IJM social workers have been helping them redefine and reclaim who they are and what they want. This is the beginning of freedom.

Traffickers Target The Poor

The four young women were trafficked to Mumbai from different places and by different people, but their stories start with alarming similarity.

In Bangalore, Amal* had run away from her abusive husband after he beat her for having three miscarriages, then met a man who offered her a good job to help her restart her life. In Bangladesh, Saba had followed a promise of work as a domestic helper, hoping to earn money to send back to her family, including a toddler son.

Traffickers prey on impoverished girls without a support network—they know no one will come looking, and they have no reason to fear the law coming after them.

Inescapable Violence  

The brothel where these young women were sold is in a building notorious for holding minors and trafficked women. IJM has helped Mumbai Police conduct five rescue operations here over the past four years.

New girls were beaten by the brothel owners or starved until they “consented” to see a customer.  The men start arriving around 4 or 5 in the evening, and the violence continues until 2 or 3 in the morning. Customers pay less than $4 for a turn with a girl.

On the night of rescue, one woman said, “The last three months I was in the brothel without seeing the sun or being outside, but somehow I was surviving.”

(Read more about the harrowing rescue operation that set them free from this nightmare.) 

How IJM Provides Care From The Start—And Keeps Going    

“This group of girls has an exceptional spirit. I sensed it from the night of their rescue,” says IJM trauma counselor Shalini Newbigging. She was there to provide crisis counseling, and she has continued to walk with the survivors since.

The young women settled into a private aftercare home in Mumbai as soon as they finished giving statements to the police that may be used in a criminal case against the four brothel keepers arrested that night. Though they woke up free the very next day, learning how to live free will take time.

IJM works closely with aftercare home staff to help survivors on this journey of freedom. Social workers assess each survivor’s unique needs, then create individualized treatment plans to address her physical, emotional, psychological and long-term vocational goals. Many of the aftercare homes provide education or job-training classes, and IJM often augments those services by hiring tutors or sponsoring seminars or health clinics that will benefit all of the girls in a home.

Certified counselors like Shalini provide invaluable services by offering one-on-one counseling to survivors, and by training staff in the homes and counselors from third-party agencies on how to provide effective trauma counseling. In one government home, there is just one counselor for 100 clients—a ratio that plainly shows how providers are often grossly under-resourced.

The Survivors Are Healing—And Dreaming—Thanks To New Role Models   

Within a week of arriving at the aftercare home, most of the survivors had enrolled in Hindi and English lessons. They have now started skills-training, learning to stitch by hand and sew on a machine. Several women want to return home to start a tailoring shop or get a job at a garment factory. A couple of the women are earning income right now, helping make key chains and jewelry that are the sold locally. 

Saba says she wants to learn how to cut hair and apply make-up so she can work at a beauty parlor. She says she wants to make women beautiful. Shalini and the other social workers will continue to support Saba and the others, even as they move to new aftercare homes closer to their families in the coming months.

When asked what she wants to become, Saba lights up. She covers her broad smile with a corner of her green dupatta, the long scarf she wears over her shoulders like shawl. Then she says with a rush of excitement, “I want to be like Shalini didi, then maybe I can help other girls.”

In less than two months, Shalini has become didi—older sister—and a role model who shows how helping others can be beautiful.
*Survivors' names have been changed.

You can find out more about IJM's work here.


The content of this blog post was provided by the Dressember Foundation. 

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Human Rights Day + Dressember Q & A

Today is Human Rights Day, which commemorates the day in 1948 that the UN General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. If you read the declaration, you will find several articles that fit perfectly with the mission of Dressember.

Article one states,
All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.
 And article four states,
No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms.
Sadly, these articles are completely disregarded by the illegal human trafficking industry. But the good news is that organizations like IJM and A21 are working to fight for the dignity and freedom of those exploited by this industry. By donating to Dressember, you are helping these organizations in their work of freedom.


Dressember definitely generates a lot of questions, and it's understandable! The whole concept can seem really strange, wearing dresses in one of the coldest months of the year. I think people are curious, and some ask questions while others may not even know where to start. And that is what this blog post is for!

I want to tackle some of the most commonly asked questions from my perspective--the view of an advocate, living in freedom, who is participating for the second year in a row. If you don't see your question, please leave it in the comments or tweet it to me @MrsEliseMance! I would love to answer whatever you may want to know about Dressember!

What is Dressember?

I like this quote from the Dressember Foundation's website; I think it says it best:
Dressember is a collaborative movement leveraging fashion and creativity to restore dignity to all women. Dressember uses fashion to advocate for women who've been exploited for their femininity. As women take on the creative challenge of wearing a dress for the 31 days of December, they are advocating for the inherent dignity of all women. Dressember exists to inspire and empower a global community of like-minded women who are locking arms to face one of the greatest injustices of our time. The heart of Dressember is freedom--that every woman has the right to live a vibrant and autonomous life.
Why are you participating in Dressember?

After participating last year, I knew I had to do it again. It's like a basketball game--I want to get in there and participate rather than simply sit on the bench and watch. Plus after participating last year, and meeting my goal by December 31, I felt empowered to continue advocating.

I'm also participating because it is something I can do to help change the world for people trapped in a system they can't escape on their own. It's what I would want someone to do for me if I were in that situation. It's small, it's not much, but it is something. When you combine what you can give with what others can give, you can make a movement bigger than any one person.

Do you have 31 different dresses? / Do you have to have a lot of dresses to participate?

Nope. Well, honestly I'm not sure exactly how many dresses I have, but I'm not wearing 31 different dresses this month. I'm sticking with about 13 different dresses and cycling through them as my donors pick out which ones I'll wear. But you don't even need that many to participate. Some ladies challenge themselves to wear one dress all month long. Even if you have just a few, you can get creative and style them differently to create new looks.

Are you tired of wearing a dress every day? / Isn't it hard to wear a dress every day?

By the end of Dressember last year, my creativity was running dry. But really, I enjoy the challenge of wearing a dress every day. For me it's fun to style new looks and to embrace the concept that this is bigger than me liking or not liking dresses. So I would say no, it's not hard to wear a dress every day.

Aren't you cold wearing a dress in December?

It depends on the weather, but if it's frigid, I'm cold in whatever I'm wearing, unless I'm wrapped up in a zillion layers head to toe. So a dress isn't really very different. I layer up with leggings, sweaters, scarves, and wool socks, and keep nice and warm all month long. Plus this winter has been really mild so far; no complaints here!

Why should I donate?

The big thing is deciding for yourself why you want to donate. Everyone has a different story, different things speak to us, and that's what makes Dressember beautiful. For some, they might give because of a past experience that compels them to help. Others may give because they are thankful for what they have and want to give back. Still others may simply want to make a difference in the world.

Whatever your reason, it's a good reason. The goal should be to do what you can with what you have. I personally love the feeling of rallying with friends and strangers around a great cause. It's so awesome to partner with others to accomplish something bigger than all of us.

How do I donate to Dressember? / Does Dressember accept PayPal? / Are donation amounts pre-selected or can I choose what I donate?

Donating to Dressember is simple. If you click the donate button on my page or follow this link, you will arrive on the secure donation page. From there you can select any amount you wish to give. There are buttons for pre-set amounts, but you can also enter any amount you wish in the "Your Donation" field. You also have the option to give a one-time gift or monthly. After that, all you have to do is fill in your information.

At this point, Dressember does not have an option to give with PayPal. You will need a Visa, Amex, MasterCard, or Discover card to donate. If you don't have a card, talk to me and I can help you get your donation in.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Dressember: A Survivor's Story

 

She Thought She'd Have a Better Life


Nina* and her boyfriend traveled to Greece with Nina’s child to find work and financial support. As unemployment in Bulgaria is so high, they thought they would have a better chance of finding work in Greece.

Soon after arriving in Greece, Nina’s boyfriend forced her into prostitution, threatening her physical well-being and the well being of her child if she did not comply. Nina was arrested by the police for prostitution, and after hearing her story, they referred her to The A21 Campaign (Greece’s Crisis Care Shelter). 

Nina was pregnant when she came into A21 care. She came back to Bulgaria with her child and moved into the A21 Transition Home in Sofia. There, our social workers cared for her throughout her pregnancy, and she gave birth to a healthy child. Once the baby was two months old, A21 moved Nina into her own apartment. She was fully financially supported by A21 for a number of months. 

Once the social workers discovered Nina could knit, A21 started a small business selling her knitted scarves. We now have six women knitting scarves, and Nina has been promoted to part-time supervisor, overseeing the quality of the product and teaching new women to knit. Nina is now on her way to financial independence. 

Finding work for women with children is incredibly important in Bulgaria, as child-care normally does not start until a child is two years old. For a single woman with a child who cannot return to her family or hometown, this means that she is basically without an income until her child is two years old. This Scarf Company will provide work for many women who would otherwise live fully dependent on an NGO or on the poverty line (government benefits are minimal).
*Survivors' names and photos are changed for their protection.
 

Sharing stories like these are important. It's important for us to remember that not everyone has life experiences like ours. It's important to know that we can help and give more. It's important to know what donations to Dressember can do. 

Dressember is about a lot more than dresses. It's about leveraging what we have, to do what we can, to change the world for the 92 million people living in slavery today. It's about realizing that if we live and work in America, we're more wealthy than billions of others across the globe. It's about giving out of our wealth to help those who have nothing, not even their own lives.

Stories like these reaffirm why I choose to participate in Dressember, why I spend the month advocating, why I join with others in doing what I can with what I have. Because in my little corner of the internet, I have a voice, I have a few dollars, I have talents, and I have time. And I can give of all those things to help someone else.

Will you consider doing what you can with what you have? Will you help us fight for freedom and dignity for those trapped in slavery? Will you donate to Dressember? Will you tell your friends about the campaign by sharing this link? https://support.dressemberfoundation.org/elisemance



You can read more about A21's work here.

The content of this blog post was provided by the Dressember Foundation.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Dressember: Week One Recap

I can't believe week one of Dressember is over already! The campaign has gotten off to a great start, thanks to everyone who has been supporting me in this adventure! It is so great to have so many different people join the cause and give to Dressember. My hope and prayer is that we can keep this momentum going as we move into week two. 

Will you consider joining me in the fight for freedom and donating to my Dressember challenge? The process is secure, simple, and tax-deductible within the United States. Your gift will go toward funding the work of International Justice Mission and A21, two organizations fighting to end human trafficking and restore dignity to those rescued from slavery.

At the end of each week of Dressember, I'll be posting a recap which will include photos and information from each day. I want to highlight my donors, their generous giving, and have some fun by talking about the different styles I create around each dress. If you don't want to wait for the recap, you can get daily updates and photos by following me on Instagram @MrsEliseMance.

Day One

Dress sponsor: Mary Lou
 About the look: I paired the wine Dressember Dress--ethically made by an overcomer of sex trafficking--with a chunky cardigan, leggings, and boots.
Fundraising Stats: Total raised before day one, $475. Total raised on day one, $160. Grand total, $635.

Day Two

Dress sponsor: My Grandma, Shirley
 About the look: This style was all about the layers: long-sleeved tee under a summery black dress (option E in the catalog), paired with a waterfall folklore sweater, sweater tights, and booties.
Fundraising Stats: Total raised, $635.

Day Three

Dress sponsor: Anonymous
 About the look: This dress was selected from the catalog (option G) by my anonymous donor. I paired it with a lightweight cardigan under an army green jacket and finished the look with grey tights, and taupe booties.
Fundraising Stats: Total raised on day three, $100. Grand total, $735.

Day Four

Dress sponsor: Brianne
 About the look: This dress was selected from the catalog (option B) by my friend Bri. I paired it with an Aztec print shawl, leggings, and boots.
Fundraising Stats: Total raised, $735.

Day Five

Dress sponsor: Emily
 About the look: This is a Lou & Grey maxi dress paired with Hawkeye-themed accessories, a golden cardigan, and Converse.
Fundraising Stats: Total raised on day five, $30. Grand total, $765.

 Day Six

Dress sponsor: Jenae
 About the look: This dress is option F from the catalog, paired with a flannel shirt, leggings, and boots for a casual look.
Fundraising Stats: Total raised on day six, $150. Grand total, $915.

Day Seven

Dress sponsor: My Aunt Wendy
 About the look: This dress was selected from the catalog (option L) by my aunt, Wendy. I found some inspiration on Pinterest and paired this floral print dress with blue tights, a navy scarf, and an open cardigan.
Fundraising Stats: As of hitting publish part-way through day seven, the current total is $915. But it's not too late to donate today! We're only $85 away from being half-way to the goal!

Donate now!  |  Visit my Dressember Page

Friday, December 4, 2015

Dressember + Art Giveaway

Happy day four of Dressember! As of hitting publish, we have joined forces to raise $735 for my campaign and over $230,000 total! That's enough to fund over 50 rescue operations, which on average cost $4,500. I am so thankful to be part of this journey and to have so many wonderful donors joining me.

Before Dressember began, donors gave $475 to my campaign. On the first day of Dressember, which was also Giving Tuesday, I hosted a surprise giveaway and donors gave $160. Since then, $100 was donated yesterday, pushing us over one third of the way to the goal.

As we move into the weekend, I want to help keep this momentum going, especially since I doubled my goal from last year and I would love to meet it. But that means I'm going to need lots of help from you!


So this weekend I'm hosting an art giveaway! For Friday through Sunday only (December 4-6), all donors to my Dressember campaign will receive a piece of art, chosen and hand-lettered by me. This will be an original piece, not a print, and also a surprise as you don't know what you'll get until it shows up!

I'm not setting a donation requirement, simply asking that you consider what you can give to this great cause. All I will need from you is an address if you're not someone I see on a regular basis. If an address isn't provided, I won't be able to get you your art.

This is just one simple way I can say thank you for your gift to Dressember. All donations are tax deductible within the United States and secure. You can choose to make a one-time donation or a monthly gift. You can also choose to donate in memory of someone, or in someone's honor. If you donate in honor of someone, I will send you a card that you can give to your honoree, letting them know about the donation.

Also, if you do donate $20 or more to my campaign, you have sponsored a dress and get to choose one for me to wear from those listed on this page. This is a fun way to get involved with the creative process of Dressember by choosing what I'll wear. If you have sponsored a dress but haven't selected yours yet, please send me your selection, otherwise I will choose one for you.


If you have questions about Dressember, please ask! You can also check out my Dressember page on this blog or my Dressember campaign page for more details. If you don't see the answer to your question, leave it below in the comments or contact me and we can chat!

Check out more of my art and photos of my Dressember styles on Instagram @MrsEliseMance.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Dressember + Giving Tuesday

After Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday, comes Giving Tuesday, a global day dedicated to giving back. It also happens to fall on December 1, the first day of Dressember. Because of that, I'm merging my Dressember campaign with Giving Tuesday for a sweet little deal!

https://support.dressemberfoundation.org/fundraise?fcid=519469

For Giving Tuesday, I'm asking you to donate to my Dressember campaign as a way to give back to a very worthy cause. Dressember partners with International Justice Mission and A21 to fight human trafficking--both working to fight injustice and care for victims.

To everyone who gives to my campaign on December 1, I will send a surprise gift! All I need is for you to provide your mailing address so I can send it to you. This is a great way to get involved in Giving Tuesday, feel great about making a donation to a worthy cause, and receive a reminder of your generous gift!

Please consider giving and helping get Dressember going with a great start! If you're looking for more information on the campaign and my participation, check out the Dressember page on this blog, or visit my official Dressember campaign page. I have some different incentives going on and send special updates to all my donors!


I'd love to connect with you if you have more questions about Dressember or if you're participating as well! Please leave a comment below or contact me.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Happy Thanksgiving: Why I'm Thankful for Waiting

Thanksgiving is one of those heart-check holidays. It makes you step back and take inventory of your thoughts, what you are truly thankful for. It usually forces me to come face-to-face with the juxtaposition of what I have and what I want, especially this year because I've spent a good chunk of time fixated on what I want.

The reality is I'm in a season of waiting for what I want. And waiting in our culture is seen as a negative. No one wants to have to wait for anything, that's why things like instant downloads and overnight shipping exist. Because we crave instant gratification and want things to come quickly and easily. But let me just put this out there: waiting isn't bad.


This year, I'm thankful for waiting. I'm thankful that I am being forced to wait because it isn't my choice, but through that, I am beginning to see the good in waiting.

I'm thankful for waiting because it gives me an opportunity to put my hopes and desires in God's hands, committing them to Him and not myself. I'm thankful for waiting because I can look with expectancy to how God will answer, how He will act, what He will do. I'm thankful for waiting because it produces the lasting joy of endurance as opposed to the temporary happiness of instant gratification. I'm thankful for waiting because at the end, I will give God the glory and not myself. Waiting forces me to realize that I can't accomplish this on my own, nothing good comes from me.

It's true that the best things in life are worth waiting for. I had to wait 12 years to become a sister, a long and lonely road on which I was mostly impatient before giving up hope. I didn't look with expectancy to God, I just assumed over time that the answer was no and I decided to stop hoping. I missed an opportunity to look to God's timing, glorifying Him for His plan and provision of a little brother.

I waited more years than I thought I wanted to before getting married. The longing to be in a relationship drove me to take matters into my own hands rather than waiting on God's plan for my love life. I wasted the years I could have grown in my relationship with God on numerous dates and dead-end relationships. I chose to ignore opportunities to look for God's plan and grew impatient in the journey. A time that was filled with frustration could have instead been filled with patient waiting for a story only God could write.

I don't want impatience and a fear of waiting to dictate my life or my choices. The reality is that waiting will always happen, but it doesn't have to be seen as something bad or burdensome. In the waiting we are also becoming, becoming who we are going to be in the next stage of life, when this waiting is done.

In singleness we are transforming into who we will be in marriage, a journey that can be filled with expectation, excitement, and once in a lifetime experiences. In growing families, we are adjusting to become the best sibling, the best parent or grandparent we can be for the new person who will join our unit. In other stages and areas of life, we are maturing, expanding, always becoming someone different, and hopefully, someone better.

For once in my life I want to take time to appreciate the process of waiting. I want to find peace in the midst of the uncertainty, joy in the hardship, and grace in the disappointment. And so this Thanksgiving, I am thankful for the opportunity to wait. What are you thankful for?

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

How to Plan a Well-Organized Wedding and Rehearsal

One of the most stressful things--for brides, and for those attending their weddings--is a poorly organized event. Nothing makes the wedding weekend crazier than a bunch of people running around asking each other questions with no answers. This is especially true for DIY brides, but even those with a wedding planner will need to sort out the details. So do yourself, and everyone else, a huge favor and take some time to thoroughly organize your big day with these tips.


Start Early

Regardless of how much time you have to plan, get started early on deciding what you do and do not want included in your wedding ceremony and reception. Think through who will be doing what, how you envision the day transpiring, and what elements are important to you. No one else will know just what you want, and if you leave it up to others to decide, you may end up disappointed and they'll end up stressed.

Do keep in mind that even though you're planning everything out now, things may change, and the day may not go exactly as planned. But, having thought through the specifics in advance will help you relax when your wedding weekend comes.

I know some brides don't care as much about the little details, but do keep in mind that someone will. Whether it's the officiant, your family, or the wedding planner, at some point someone will ask what you want. Help out those involved in your big day and plan those details. This will save them from the stress of wondering, "What does the bride want?" Plus, it will help cut down on the questions you will have to answer.

Map it Out

As you begin your early planning process, start a document on your computer or tablet where you can type up your plans. As you determine details and specifics, map out where they fall, both in the timeline of the weekend and in terms of responsibility. It will help you worry less as you'll have the details in writing, and it will help you distribute responsibilities among your bridal party, coordinators, and attendants.

Your map should include all the information your bridal party will need--different events and their locations throughout the weekend, pertinent contact information, etc.--as well as a breakdown of responsibilities for the big day--who will direct the bridal party as they walk down the aisle, who will help bustle your dress, who will be responsible for collecting your gifts and cards. It doesn't hurt to be thorough in writing out instructions.

As your wedding weekend gets closer, continue editing your map until it is ready to go. Provide a copy of it to anyone who may need the information, including your officiant, your wedding or ceremony coordinator, your attendants, and your bridal party. You can also give people individualized lists if they don't need all the information.

Rock Your Rehearsal 

The best wedding rehearsals I've been to have been planned out in advance. The really good ones included a printed breakdown of exactly who was doing what and when. You should meet with your officiant (and coordinator if you have one) before the rehearsal to talk through these details. Your officiant or coordinator may prepare and print a breakdown of the rehearsal for you, but if they don't, you can create one yourself.

The breakdown should be like a more detailed version of your wedding program with clear instructions for everyone involved. Make sure to include details for the officiant, ushers, bridal party (including the ring bearer and flower girl), family members, musicians, and anyone else involved. Everyone will need to know when it's their turn to participate, where they need to go, what they need to do, and what song will be playing. Make sure you have enough copies for everyone involved, and a few extra just in case.

Besides giving everyone thorough instructions, the printout will also help when people aren't paying attention (shocker, some people will talk through the instructions). These socialites can refer to the typed document when they realized they missed the part that was for them.

Don't Stress

Once you've finished your map and assigned responsibilities, try to relax. People will most likely still have questions, so don't feel like you failed if that happens. If the answer is on the map, kindly refer them there or direct them to an attendant who can help. This is your day to enjoy, so relax and tell yourself it's time to reap the rewards of all your hard work.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Dressember + A Fundraiser Challenge

I've been excited to see donations coming in already for my Dressember campaign! It gives me hope that my crazy goal isn't quite so crazy. If you've donated to my campaign, thank you so much! I can't do this alone and having your support is awesome.

Last year during Dressember, I offered quote art as a bonus to my donors and I've decided to incorporate it again this year, but in a slightly different way to help build momentum.

https://support.dressemberfoundation.org/fundraise?fcid=519469

My hope is to reach at least $1,000 in donations by December 1 (as of hitting publish, we're only $600 away, which breaks down to $30/day). If that goal is reached, I will give each donor of $25 or more a piece of hand-lettered art. All art pieces will be totally unique and lettered on thick, mixed media paper ready for framing or hanging.

If you were waiting for an incentive to give, this is it! Not only will you help fight slavery, but you will also get a beautiful work of art to display or gift to a friend. As soon as we reach $1,000, I will start creating the art and collecting donor addresses so I can get it mailed out as soon as possible. That way, if you're wanting to give your artwork to someone as a Christmas gift, it will *hopefully* arrive on time!

If you're wanting to find some examples of my work, you can check out my Etsy shop, Tumblr or Instagram. Leave any questions you may have in the comments or send them to me via email. You can visit my Dressember page to donate now and find out more about the campaign.

Thanks for considering this great cause and visiting my blog!

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Dressember Essentials: How to Stay Warm During Dressember

One of the scariest things about participating in Dressember in northern states and cold regions is the idea of wearing dresses all December. It can be intimidating to think about trekking through the snow in a dress. However, if this is the biggest thing keeping you from participating, let me encourage you: it is totally doable!

To take some of the uncertainty out of it, I've made a list of items that will help you stay stylish and warm all month long. I call these my "Dressember Essentials" for my girls in the Midwest and other cold areas. I recently did a Periscope video on this, so if you missed it, you can catch up on what I talked about with this post.

Dressember Essentials

1. Versatile dresses. The best place to start is in your closet. Pick out the most comfortable and versatile dresses you own, even if they are more fit for summer. You don't have to go out and buy a whole new wardrobe to participate in Dressember. If you do want to add a new dress to your collection, I recommend pre-ordering the Dressember Dress, shown in wine on the model above. It is ethically made by a sewing center in Nepal.

Last year I styled many dresses that were intended for warmer climates, including all of the dresses featured in this post, and in this post. In fact, pretty much all my dresses were made for spring/summer with the exception of a sweater dress. I like to think of the dresses as blank canvases that I'll pair with my winter-ready essentials.

2. Tights and leggings. I love wearing leggings and Dressember is the perfect time to pull them out! If it gets really cold where you live, stock up on fleece-lined leggings or layer tights under your leggings for added warmth. If it's chilly but not really cold, I like to stick with just tights. I also like to wear athletic-type leggings for their non-clingy texture.

Another item to consider are ponte pants, they're like a thick version of leggings. They typically aren't see-through, plus the thicker the material, the warmer you'll be. I first got introduced to Loft's ponte pants while working there, but you can find them just about anywhere.

3. Cardigans and sweaters. On this board I chose button-down and open front cardigans, but you can also add pull-over sweaters and jackets. Really any type of outerwear is great and can be layered in multiples. I love the look of an open cardigan, I think it adds a pretty, flowy dimension to an outfit. Plus pockets are an added bonus!

My tips for choosing a cardigan or sweater are to think about the climate where you live and also what will work well with most of your wardrobe. If you're in a cold climate, go for a thicker, chunky-knit sweater. If it isn't as cold, go for something lightweight. Choose neutral colors if you have bold or bright dresses, or if you want to be able to easily pair your cardi with other outfits in the future. If you have a lot of solid-color, neutral dresses, go for a red or berry color to brighten things up.

4. Layering add-ons. If it gets really cold where you live, invest in some good layering pieces. These can include long-sleeved tees or undershirts, thick scarves (especially good for dresses with low-cut necklines), wool socks, knit hats, and of course, mittens! With all of these, the thicker the material, the warmer you'll be.

5. Boots. Boots are a style lifesaver when there's snow on the ground. You can look cute while keeping your feet warm and dry. Plus knee-high boots will hide your wool socks. ;)

6. Cute accessories. Let's not forget to top off the look with some fun accessories. Just because it's cold doesn't mean you can't add on pretty details. I especially like belts to cinch in the waistline (which, let's be honest, can disappear under all those layers) and sparkly jewelry to add visual interest and dimension.

These are my Dressember essentials, but I want to know: what would you add? If you have done or are planning to do Dressember, what are your essentials? How do you keep it cute and cozy during the winter months?

Monday, November 2, 2015

Cullen Family Photo Shoot

Life is definitely staying busy, but I finally got another fall shoot edited this weekend! I had to force myself to set aside time dedicated to only photo editing (with maybe some football on in the background), which was a little hard with my newfound love for Periscope. Don't judge me.

These photos were from a fun session I had with the Cullen family mid-October at Kent Park in Tiffin, the same place where I look the Clark's family portraits. This location may become my favorite out here, it has beautiful trees, architecture in the form of some bridges, and meadow areas with long grass.




























Thanks for checking out my blog! Find out more about my photography and what I offer here.
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