Though 14-year-old Iyana described herself as “not really a girlie girl,” she was immediately drawn to a light pink dress with lace at an event where free dresses were given to girls in need in the Bronx.
“I don’t think I’m going to take it off,” she said, laughing.
The dress was one of about 50 laid out on tables Tuesday at the Madison Square Boys and Girls Joel E. Smilow Clubhouse in the Bronx. The attire was provided by the Believe in Yourself Project, a nonprofit that gives away new dresses to low-income girls and aims to inspire them to achieve their goals.
“We have all the kids tell me what their dream is and then they set a goal for their school year,” said Sam Sisakhti, who started the program in 2017. “If they achieve it, we provide them with more dresses (and) we also provide them with mentoring.
“So this is the first of probably five more visits,” Sisakhti explained, saying he will bring in professionals from fields the girls are interested in pursuing.
The two dozen girls at the event were selected by the local Boys and Girls clubhouses, Sisakhti said. About 25 more from clubhouses in Brooklyn will receive dresses on Thursday.
Iyana, who plans to wear her dress to a semi-formal on Friday, said her dream is to be a surgeon and her short-term goal is to double up on math and science courses next year.
“I like science,” she said. “Math is a challenge.”
Another young girl, Hailene, 11, said her dream is to be an actor, singer and dancer — “like Jennifer Lopez,” she said.
To work toward that dream, she set a goal of taking vocal lessons at Notes for Notes, a music program at the Boys and Girls clubhouses.
Hailene plans to wear the blue dress she picked at an upcoming “prom” for fifth-graders at her school.
“I picked this dress because I think it shows off my inner beauty, and I feel really comfortable in it,” she said.
Without the dresses from Believe in Yourself, many of the girls at the Boys and Girls clubhouses wouldn’t have had the opportunity to get a new dress for upcoming formal events.
“Some of them just wouldn’t have gone” to the dances or other events, said Linda Sargeant, the director of the Joel E. Smilow Clubhouse.
Sisakhti, who also founded the online retail company UsTrendy, has given dresses to about 6,000 girls in 20 states so far, with a goal of helping 10,000. He plans to include boys within the next year.
Sometimes when people hear about the company, they want to donate used dresses, he said, but he only accepts new dresses or monetary donations to go toward purchasing the clothing.
“I try to create a shopping experience,” he said. “I really want them to have the tags on it, take the tag off and be like, ‘This was bought for me.’ That’s kind of what makes it unique.”