Building community spirits one dress at a time: “Mynewfavoriteweek’ly Inspiration.”

Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.” ~  Leo F. Buscaglia

I am so proud and excited to introduce you our interviewee this week as she is literally my dear and oldest friend.  She is one of the “Great 8,” and when I talk about childhood friends she is front and center.

Her name is Michelle. I call her Bell.

She has a magical ability to do all the things that Leo F. Buscaglia describes in his quote, and has done them all for me countless times.  As she tells in her story, I got to visit with Michelle when she came down to visit her family as she was mulling over starting “What I Wore.”  My heart surged with pride and excitement for her opportunity and what she was about to do for this community.

Without the wonderful goodness of the ladies in the picture below, I would have likely been one of the girls lined up to receive the generosity in both clothing and in self-esteem that Michelle is sharing with these girls. We could not afford to buy non-essential items like formal dresses, so these ladies, my G8, my Ya-Yas would lend me theirs, including Michelle.  Hat in hand, while now, I can buy these dresses (not taffeta and iridescent fabrics like we rocked then), I couldn’t then and so to me this initiative is that much greater.

I so want to tell you everything about her, but I suspect you will see what makes her so very special as you read her words below. But I can’t help but  give you some highlights.

Michelle is 3rd from right and yes that's me with awful hair behind her:) Senior year of highschool (the other G8's shall remain anonymous for now:)) We all shared dresses.
  • We spent nearly every New Years eve together until we both got married and moved away (we still talk every New Years Eve, even this year!).
  • We have shared countless milkshakes and fries and made killer brownies on Saturday night since we were 10 years old.
  • We have been dressed up as the Gogos.
  • We have dressed all in black and played rambettes with other friends to spy on ex-boyfriends.
  • She let me live on her couch in her one bedroom apartment in LA when I did my graduate internship (rent free:)).
  • She was the first person to feel Q move inside my belly other than KSP.
  • She was the first to caution me over and over to be gentle on myself while I was pregnant (she knows me well, and it bared repeating)
  • She and 2 other friends started a “phone team” to call me everyday that my babies were in the hospital to make sure I was ok, even if it was only to leave me a message. They would then distribute the information out to friends of ours so that I wouldn’t have to.
  • She married my best guy friend from college:)
  • We have laughed, cried, fought, made up, been more silly than anyone should ever know and we have loved one another for years and years.

I am thrilled and honored to introduce you to one of my Ya-Yas (thanks @Transitioning Mom)…forever and ever. Michelle, “Bell” Duff.

This is us 3 years ago in Michelle's now hometown Bend. We are seated next to one another (back right) and this is the Grown up G8s:)

Shannon:  What is “What I Wore?”

Michelle:  “What I Wore:  Redmond’s Prom and Formal Dress Bank” is a Service Project of Kiwanis International and specifically the Kiwanis Club of Redmond, Oregon.  Our mission is to supply formal dresses and accessories to the women in our community for their many functions.  We have provided gowns for proms, formals, weddings, vacations and even interviews.  We service eight cities and towns within Deschutes County, have had over 375 dresses donated and have given away approximately 80 dresses, shoes, handbags and costume jewelry!

Though What I Wore has been well received in our community, our idea is not original.  There are wonderful National Organizations such as Becca’s Closet that also do a fantastic job of getting the dresses into the hands of young women that need themWhat I Wore is only original in that it was designed based on the needs of our local community whose economy has been decimated as a result of our Nation’s current recession.  I find that by managing the project at a local level we can be sensitive and flexible to our population and its specific needs.

Shannon:  What inspired you to want to start “What I Wore?”

Michelle: As with many ideas and dreams, What I Wore was many years in the making and inspired by someone else’s planted seed.  The idea began several years ago when I was in my twenties and came across the book, “Love, Loss and What I Wore” by Ilene Beckerman.  Now an Off-Broadway play, Ms. Beckerman wrote a wonderful short novel on the complexity of life reflected by the outfits she wore during important transitional times in her evolution as a woman.  The idea not only stuck with me but also moved me.  I found it true for myself  that when I allow myself to fall back into the memories that have secured my person, I not only remember “what I wore” but also what I heard, what I smelled, what I saw and what I felt.  To me the metaphor was brilliant!

Through life the Title and idea continued to build momentum.  Last December upon coming home for Christmas to my hometown I returned to my mother and father in the throes of retirement and their consequential downsizing.  They asked (read demanded) that I remove my childhood mementos from their home.  These mementos included five dresses that I had worn to different dances and as a bridesmaid in several weddings.  In fact, one of the dresses was a bridesmaid dress worn to a wedding where I met and later married the love of my life.  These dresses held great importance and as I lay in my childhood bed unable to sleep I knew that the dresses had not seen their last day.  I also knew that as happy as they had made me that they still had the power to make memories for others.  That night the plan was formed and two weeks later I returned home and put What I Wore into motion.

Note from Shannon:  The wedding Michelle is referring to that she wore and met the love of her life, is the bridemaids dress from my first wedding, where she met one of my best college friends and the two later got marriedJ

Shannon:  How did you get started? What was the first step you took?

Michelle:  I believe that when ideas are meant to succeed that God opens doors and asks you to walk through them.  This was the case for What I Wore and the project’s success can only be attributed to Divine Intervention and the compassion of humanity.  The first step in my process was to have faith in myself, my idea and the people that surround me.  It happens that I have an amazing group of family and friends who are not only talented and resourceful but also connected!  I sent an email out to this group hoping to gather up a few dresses with my original goal being 50 dresses that I would then loan out.  Within two weeks I had 75 dresses, multiple brand name shoes (thank you my Southern California Supporters) and fantastic clutches.  It became apparent that we could actually give the dresses away rather than lend them.  At that point I could not have stopped the momentum of What I Wore if I had tried.

From there What I Wore soared and I found that my role was to simply hold on!  I had extraordinary council from my husband, a local Kiwanis Club Member and Accountant.  It came to pass that it was much cleaner and easier to combine forces with an existing non-profit rather than form my own.  Kiwanis of Redmond adopted my project which was a perfect marriage because like me, their mission is to serve the young people in our community.  In addition, an amazing friend and neighbor infected by the majeure of the project partnered with me and kept me motivated every step of the way.  My husband’s Partner donated the office space to house our growing inventory, Ford Cleaners a local dry cleaner provided all of our cleaning and mending at no charge, and a Kiwanis Member who creates websites put together a website for us,  The community was on board and now it was time to reach the women of Central Oregon.  The local television, radio and print media picked up our story and have never let us down in getting the word out.  The skeptical local High School’s allowed us to put our service in their announcements and slowly women and families of courage came through our doors.

Shannon:  What would you suggest to people who might be interested in starting their own business or non-profit?

Michelle:  My number one suggestion when beginning any endeavor is to surround oneself with positive, resourceful and likeminded people.  Maybe it is because I am the baby of four and a little spoiled but I have a horrible distaste for naysayers.  The words no, never and can’t grate on me like a fingernails on a blackboard.   I had to turn my head from these people and their words more than once during the process.  Yet it should be noted that I turned back toward them once the project was up and running to simply say, “Come and see”.  Nurture and protect your project until it is strong enough to stand on its own.

Along the same lines, I have been blessed to have and know amazing people who care about and want the best for people.  I was so fortunate to be able to call upon these people and without prodding they answered.  For me the notion to help those “in need” came from my family as I come from a long line of “do-gooders”.  Yet it was my friends and their networks that surprised me the most.  We received dresses as far off as California, Florida and Washington.  These people did not know me but they had been forwarded my message by my friends.  It is a testament that these people trusted and believed in my friends and as a result me and What I Wore.

Finally, never underestimate the courage and power of a community.  There will be times when you might doubt your project, organization or your own abilities to make things happen.  When an idea is meant to happen it will, because compassion, empathy, excitement, and success are contagious.  That was the case for What I Wore and I believe for most dreams and passions that come to realization.  No matter your endeavor homelessness, cancer ratification, autism; you are not alone and the community you are reaching will bring your dream to fruition.
Shannon:  What is your dream for What I Wore?

MichelleThe funny thing about dreams and ideas are that sometimes they are made to try but not necessarily meant to succeed.  My hope was to make What I Wore a resource for women within in the community.  In High School and beyond, I suffered from eating disorders, lack of self-esteem and loneliness.  As such, my thought was during the “non-dance season” to have a monthly seminar in regards to healthy eating, friendships and money management.  I even had my experts lined up.  Unfortunately due to the lack of participation the seminars were not to be.  I attempt to take safe haven in the paraphrase about Thomas Edison and the invention of the light bulb, “I didn’t fail, I found out 2,000 ways how not to make a light bulb; I only need to find one way to make it work” – thank you Ben Gates (read Nicholas Cage) from the movie, National Treasure. : )  The failure of the seminars reminded me to work in conjunction with the needs of the community and not to be reliant on my own desires.
Shannon:  You also work and have 2 cutie pies, how do you marry the 2 worlds and be a mom and wife?

Michelle:  When a vision is at its best it “works” with every part of your world.  What I Wore simply adapted to my current role of wife, mother and part-time worker.  What I Wore is by appointment only and so with the assistance of my family, I make appointments based on the schedule of my family and the clients I work with.  As for my role as a wife I believe my husband has even more respect and appreciation for me because of my care and involvement in our community.  As a mother, my children are often with me during appointments and not only are completely on board to assist but also understand how important it is to help out ones neighbor.  As a parent one of my finest moments was when my eight year old daughter Olivia said, “Mommy when I get older I want to give away dresses too”.  I remember a paraphrase that a community is only as strong as its weakest member.  If I do nothing else in this lifetime for my children I would like them to have character and my participation in What I Wore helps exemplify that value for them.

Shannon:  How do you feel now that you have taken this step?

Michelle:  What I Wore helps keep my heart beating.  My family is going through a difficult time and What I Wore reminds me that even though there are times that I may feel hopeless courage, strength and love are still prevalent in this world.  Helping the people at What I Wore strengthens my heart and resolve and for that it has been a wonderful gift.

Shannon:  What are three things you would want people to know about you and “What I Wore?”

Michelle:  When Shannon asked me to interview for her blog I was very nervous.  Shannon has interviewed so many people with wonderful causes and incredible stories that have inspired her; mine seemed very little.  As I have been typing I began to remember the people and families that I have worked with.  If there were three things that I would want people to know for certain it is that there is goodness in all people, strength is inside you and if you are lacking hope, look in your neighbor’s eyes.
Shannon:  What is your pearl of wisdom that can inspire yourself and others to make today ‘anewfavoriteday?’

Michelle:  Oh, if only I had wisdom…I pray for this daily!

How about another quote from Ben Gates : ) “If there is something wrong, those who have the ability to take action have the responsibility to take action.”

Shannon:  If people are interested in learning more about “What I Wore,” where can they go?

Michelle:  Thank you to everyone who has continued to follow my thoughts.  If you would like to donate to our cause or learn more about us, we can be contacted at:

  • Facebook of course (our target are the High School Students after all)
  • Email – – We also send out a monthly newsletter if you would like to learn about all our happenings and once in awhile see Shannon from in the 90s

Thank you for your time.

Thank you Bell for sharing your heart and your goodness with us. Not only is your kindness turning other’s lives around, you have turned mine around several times, and for that I thank you.   In addition to Michelle’s general loveliness she also had quite possibly the best hair in our highschool class and as I told one guy who was putting the moves on her pre-marriage when we were out dancing, “she is the best dancer ever!”….so you see, she is the all around package. I hope you have enjoyed reading about Michelle and “What I Wore” as much as I have enjoyed sharing her and her wonderful community organization with you! I wish you all the greatest of friendships and “anewfavoriteday.”

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5 thoughts on “Building community spirits one dress at a time: “Mynewfavoriteweek’ly Inspiration.”

  1. Such a great person, program, and God’s graceful timing. M, you are inspiring…and you DO have great hair! xoxo

  2. Michelle’s husband…was one of my best guy friends from high school! I have known him for a long time. I loved your article and when John and Michelle got married I gained a very sweet and dear friend. Thank you for sharing both your story and Michelle’s. It needed to be told!

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