Meet Maddie Hilgers
Maddie Hilgers is an Austin native studying Social Work at the University of Texas, and she, like many of her peers, splits her time among academics, extracurriculars, and volunteering. However, she is not your average college student. Recently, I enjoyed chatting with Maddie to learn how this 20-year-old gal with just 2 dresses was able to raise over $7,000.
Just one year ago, the wife of Maddie’s college pastor told Maddie about her and her own mother’s involvement in Dressember. With a background of love for human trafficking victims, Maddie was immediately all in to participate in this unique idea. With a sheepish laugh, she noted that she doesn’t at all typically choose or like to wear dresses. Come December 1st, however, Maddie and the other individuals on her friend’s team were ready to go.
A number of surprises occurred when she first embarked on this fashion challenge. She turned to Facebook to ask her friends to get involved by either donating or starting their own teams. She was extremely surprised by the sheer number of people that donated and who went above and beyond, giving large gifts to help the fight. By the end of the campaign, Maddie had not only individually raised over $7,000 but had inspired a handful of friends to sign up themselves!
Dressember even gave Maddie a very conspicuous conversation starter. As a woman who greatly prefers a daily ensemble of t-shirts and cargo shorts, reserving dresses for religious holidays, she fielded comments like, “You look so pretty! Why don’t you wear dresses more often?” knowing that she had an answer they wouldn’t be expecting. As a result, many friends and classmates asked for her campaign link on the spot.
The challenge came with its obstacles too. For someone as active as Maddie, wearing a dress every day can seriously get in the way of hiking, skateboarding, and general comfort. Maybe more significantly, she also made a 6 month deal with her grandparents to grow out her hair, which is normally kept very short. With a look of determination, she gestured to her currently-short locks and told me she’s expectant for an enhanced agreement to be made this year.
Maddie wasn’t fazed by any of these challenges, though. She says, “It’s something I can do to help others in a pretty easy way at no personal loss to me. Ending modern-day slavery is something I’m passionate about.” She wants to eventually go overseas and do international social work, potentially with kids coming out of trafficking situations. I hope to see her in one of the many countries where she would like to work someday whether it’s Myanmar or Congo, Indonesia or Uganda.
Knowing that there are women and men who are hesitant to participate, Maddie encourages results-oriented thinking. Changing your wardrobe for a month is not hard or radical. What’s hard is the fact that slavery still exists. Radical change will emerge from thousands of people committing to involvement.
Matter-of-factly, Maddie shared the following tips that helped during her month of dresses last year:
Find dresses with pockets. Pockets are the way to go and make your life so much easier.
Get creative! Be challenged to come up with new looks and styles, mixing and matching pieces and accessories. You might find that you love an outfit that’s not typically “you.” Make it fun and experiment!
Utilize what you have. She just wore 2 dresses the entire month! Find different colored tights, scarves, jewelry, hats, sweaters that are already in your wardrobe. When the new Star Wars movie came out, she just layered her Star Wars tee over her dress.
If you’re unsure about participating, let Maddie be your inspiration. Her own advocacy was inspired by women like Christine Caine, founder of A21. She’s also struck by a missionary, Heidi Baker, in Mozambique and the care she extends to 20,000+ orphans.
To Maddie, Dressember is exactly the thing that can spark that kind of greater change in individuals with hearts for the issue. She cautions people from thinking that getting involved in the fight against human trafficking is just the job of the government or “someone else” or that it’s not something we can affect. If you don’t know how to make an impact, start here.
Maddie believes Dressember is not simply a fundraiser for organizations working on a large-scale.
“It’s a way for someone to say, ‘I am doing something about [the issue of trafficking]. I’m seeing results. I’m a part of something much bigger.’”
About the Author
Chynna Terrell is an ENFJ studying English Literature at the University of Oklahoma (boomer!). Aside from trying not to think about being a senior, she is president of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship and is excited to participate again and write for Dressember. And, why yes, she would love to have you over for a hot cup of tea, a puzzle, and good conversation.