By Cathy Jett
The Free Lance-Star, Fredericksburg, Va.
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr)> Jessica Kidd was recently honored by L’Oreal as one of their “Women of Worth.” Kidd founded Gracie’s Gowns in 2012 and has made, with a little help, more than 3,000 cheerful hospital gowns for children all over the world who have been diagnosed with a life-threatening or chronic illness. Leftover fabric is used make preemie gowns, which are donated to neonatal intensive care units at seven hospitals.
The Free Lance-Star, Fredericksburg, Va.
Jessica Kidd said that she always thought that she had to be an important person working in a big office building to make a difference.
Last Thursday, the Caroline County founder of Gracie’s Gowns told a star-studded crowd at a gala in New York City for her and the nine other L’Oréal Women of Worth honorees that she’s come to realize that isn’t true.
“There is ability within each of us to do so much that’s bigger than ourselves,” she said during a speech following a video about her work to help critically ill children and their families. “You are creating so much that’s bigger than yourselves. Keep on doing it.”
Kidd learned last month that she’d been selected as a Woman of Worth, an honor that includes a $10,000 grant and an all-expenses paid trip to New York City for the gala, networking with the other winners, and workshops at Bloomberg and Facebook to help improve the work they’re doing.
She was also in the running to be the National Woman of Worth, an honor that went to Carly Yoost, founder of the Child Rescue Coalition. It helps global law enforcement officials rescue children from predators and potential sexual attacks.
Kidd said in a phone interview Monday that she got to meet Yoost and talk to her during the time the honorees spent with each other in New York City, and that felt that she was deserving of the national award and the additional $25,000 that came with it.
“It was definitely amazing, being able to talk to them [her fellow honorees] and hear about their missions in person, and hear their stories and where they got to be where they are today,” she said. “Listening to how much pain and adversity they’d had in their lives and how they used it for the better was uplifting.”
Kidd also got to meet a number of stars, including Diane Keeton, Andie MacDowell, Eva Longoria and Blake Lively, as well as businesswomen such as Huffington Post editor-in-chief Arianna Huffington and L’Oréal Paris President Karen Fondu.
“I think I’m still in shock,” Kidd said Monday. “They were so down to earth. You expect them to be a different class of people, but I think they cried more than we did hearing everybody’s stories and watching the videos. They were so passionate about empowering women for what they really are worth, the things that they can achieve.”
Kidd founded Gracie’s Gowns in 2012 and has made, with a little help, more than 3,000 cheerful hospital gowns for children all over the world who have been diagnosed with a life-threatening or chronic illness. Leftover fabric is used make preemie gowns, which are donated to neonatal intensive care units at seven hospitals. They include Mary Washington Hospital, UVA Culpeper Hospital and UVA Children’s Hospital in Charlottesville.
In her speech, she said that she never thought that the work, which is done mainly on her kitchen table, would result in an honor like Women of Worth. She accepted it on behalf of the families who’ve received a Gracie’s Gown for children who are fighting for their life.
Kidd said that she really didn’t want to talk about her own life when Carol Masser, co-host of “The Bloomberg Advantage” on Bloomberg Radio and an anchor/reporter on Bloomberg TV, asked her about it before introducing her at the gala. She said she didn’t want to be defined by her past, which had included an abusive marriage.
She said that Masser told her that was the beauty of Women of Worth, that the past is what made her what she is today and because of that she’s changing the lives of children around the world.
“That’s the first time I had ever heard anybody say that to me,” Kidd said. “It really made me feel that what I do makes a difference.”
She plans to use some of the $10,000 she’ll receive next month, plus an additional $5,000 each winner will get thanks to sales of a special L’Oréal Women of Worth makeup kit, to replace her worn-out sewing machine with a commercial version capable of embroidering each child’s name on their gown. She also hopes to eventually move the operation into an office and possibly a rent a warehouse to store donated supplies for children with a long-term illness.
Kidd said that she plans to make some changes to Gracie’s Gowns based on what she learned about marketing and new fundraising tools during the workshops at Bloomberg and Facebook. They include restructuring the organization to include a governing board whose members will have experience in non-profits and fundraising.
She’s also interested in finding out what services families with critically ill children need that they aren’t getting, and either help them find those services or possibly provide them.
“I’m still going to keep the wonderful ladies I have [on the Gracie’s Gowns board], but will be changing direction,” she said.
“The executive board will not only contribute to Gracie’s Gowns, but help it grow. That’s really the next step.”