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Love that Dress!

By Staff | May 27, 2015

Proceeds from a June 11 collection party at the SS Hookers restaurant will benefit a Lee County school for at-risk girls. Clothing and accessories are forwarded to the central sales event in August. Organizers include Sara Garner (left), Nancy Finch, Sandy Stilwell, Jennifer Pfenninger, Shelley Starner, PACE Center executive director Meg Geltner, Cookie Douglas and Mindi Goldberg. CRAIG GARRETT

Sandy Stilwell is connected to dozens of good works and charitable causes. Giving time and funds is at the heart of her values.

But the one that tickles her deeply is Love that Dress!, a collection drive of new/gently used women’s clothing and accessories to benefit a Fort Myers school for at-risk girls.

Stilwell on June 11 is hosting a Love that Dress7! collection party, auction and goodwill celebration at her SS Hookers restaurant at the foot of the Sanibel Causeway. Organizers ask for donations of new or gently used dresses, shoes, accessories and handbags, all of which go to this year’s main event Aug. 26 at the Embassy Suites in Estero. They’re also asking for sponsorships and auction donations to help drive the funding effort.

Collection parties in Lee County like the one at SS Hookers should generate some 4,000 dresses and thousands of accessories, which will be sold to benefit the PACE Center for Girls in Fort Myers. Sponsorships, ticket sales and donated goods for auction will help boost the goal beyond last year’s $125,000, said Stilwell, who is chair of the PACE Center board in Lee County.

“Building on the momentum of this successful fundraiser, we realized we needed to streamline the events leading up to the big event,” said Stilwell, chief executive of Stilwell Enterprises in Captiva and board chair for the PACE Center for Girls, a school for kids with life challenges. PACE Center graduation is about 95 percent. “Signifying our seventh year, we will have just seven signature dress collection fundraisers strategically hosted at locations across Lee County prior to the main event.”

During the main event in Estero in August, attendees will enjoy the huge inventory with friends, a silent auction full of unique packages, and cocktails. Suite and VIP ticket holders are granted access to early shopping, private dressing rooms, clothing holds, express check-out service, complimentary adult beverages, hors d’oeuvres and a private selection of chocolates.

All proceeds from Love That Dress! will benefit the PACE Center for Girls of Lee County. PACE is a non-residential program targeting the unique needs of girls, ages 12 to 18, facing challenges such as physical and sexual abuse, domestic violence, substance abuse, foster care, neglect, death of a parent, family history of incarceration and declining grades.

Men play a role in the event, but Love that Dress! is more of a women’s night out. Women donate gently used clothing to the benefit, with the proceeds forwarded and the clothing sold at the event in Estero. Shoes, purses, pantsuits, dresses, jewelry are welcomed.

Love that Dress! has become so popular, in fact, that the PACE Center has seen a surge in volunteerism and donations in the last seven years, said Meg Geltner, the PACE Center’s executive director.

“And that allows (us) to get the mission of our school out there,” she said. “It has absolutely been a dynamo event.”

PACE began in 1985 with one Center in Jacksonville, serving 10 girls. PACE in 2014 opened its eighteenth center in Miami. Each year some 2,000 girls are assisted, or about 21,000 in almost 30 years.

The PACE model provides comprehensive mental health and social services, daily middle school and high school academic instruction, development of school-to-work readiness skills and follow-up transition services. PACE is recognized as an effective program for keeping girls out of the juvenile justice system and helping them find success in school, at home and in the community.

And the PACE mission is timely, experts agree, especially with the high number of teens girls becoming single mothers. The US Census Bureau reports six out of 10 women who give birth in their early 20s are unmarried. Income and education are closely linked to the trend. The national birth rate for unmarried women in 2007 was up 80 percent in the almost three decades since 1980.

This year’s dress collection parties scheduled to date include the one at SS Hookers, 17501 Harbour Pointe Drive in Fort Myers, on Thursday, June 11; Miromar Outlets, located at 10801 Corkscrew Road in Estero, on Wednesday, June 24; Rum Runners Restaurant, located at 5848 Cape Harbour Drive in Cape Coral, on Wednesday, July 8; Goodwill Boutique on First, located at 2401 First Street in downtown Fort Myers, and The Firestone After Party, located at 2224 Bay Street in Downtown Fort Myers, both on Thursday, July 16; and the Lucky Number 7 Wrap Up Party at Six Bends Harley-Davidson, located at 9501 Thunder Road in Fort Myers, on Friday, Aug. 7.

Love That Dress!7 event chairs and co-chairs are Shelley Starner, assistant general manager of Miromar Outlets, and Jennifer Pfenninger, director of sales at Embassy Suites in Estero.

Last year, nearly 4,000 new and gently loved dresses were sold at the shopping event, raising more than $125,000 for PACE.

“Each year, we look forward to Love That Dress!,” Meg Geltner said. “Our collection party hosts and Love That Dress! committee have a wonderful series of events lined up for us this year.”

According to Geltner, this year’s Love That Dress! collection goal is to receive 4,000 new and gently loved dresses and raise more than $120,000.

Those interested in hosting a collection party in support of Love That Dress!7 may contact Allyson Ross, special events associate at PACE, at Allyson.Ross@PACECenter.org. For more information about the event, call (239) 470-7548, visit www.pacecenter.org/lee or search “Love That Dress, Lee” on Facebook.