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Sew charitable
Retired teacher’s dress project earns United Nations award
 
Published Thursday, March 14, 2013 7:14 am
by Herbert L. White

Mae Orr’s always had a soft spot for kids.

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PHOTO/CALVIN FERGUSON
Mae Orr’s campaign to sew 300 dresses out of pillowcases for orphans in war-torn Liberia was recognized by the United Nations with the International Service Award. Giving back is a habit for Orr, 84. “I think it did more for me than it did for them,” she said.


The retired Charlotte teacher’s latest project – converting pillowcases into dresses for 300 Liberian girls – earned international notice when the United Nations recognized her with an International Service Award. The National Association of Negro Business and Professional Women’s Clubs International Division presented the award.


“We weren’t expecting an award or anything,” Orr said.


But the UN took note. The Liberia dresses were the latest charitable work for Orr, 84, a Charlotte native who retired from Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools in 1989. For kids in a war-torn country who have few luxuries, the dresses were Orr’s way of giving back.


“I think it did more for me than it did for them,” she said. “I understand they did a little dance when they saw the pretty dresses. I said I’ll do a little dance too because it made me feel great to do that.”


Orr, a member of the Charlotte club of NANBPW, said she got the idea from a neighbor.  She proposed the project at her church, Second Calvary Baptist, and NANBPW, which gave their support. Club volunteers in Florida, Alabama, Georgia and North Carolina tailored the dresses by cutting holes in the closed end for the arms and neck, then added details on the bottom for a hem or pocket on the front.


“The dresses are actually very simple to make,” Orr said. “All you need is a ribbon. You cut away for arms at the top of the pillowcase, fold down and stitch across to insert the ribbon to make a halter. That’s all there is to it.”


The dresses – and tee shirts to wear underneath for church services – were delivered to Liberia by a couple of volunteers. The UN was made aware of the project and invited Orr and her fellow volunteers to New York for a luncheon honoring their work.


“It’s satisfying, and it makes you feel good. I think that’s why I think I’ve lived so long.”


The Liberia dresses is one of many outreach efforts Orr has participated in. A 1946 West Charlotte High School graduate, she was co-founder of the school’s national alumni association in 1981. As a retiree, Orr has been particulary active in programs at home and abroad, whether it’s paying to have wells dug in Africa and Haiti or providing blankets for retirement home residents or meals and supplies for homeless students in Charlotte.


“I was in education, and I saw a lot of children in need,” she said. “We all have a purpose for being here, and I think that must be my purpose because I do not like to see any child suffer.”

 

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