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VINTON, Iowa- Megan Turnes of Vinton may have the typical interests of many high school seniors. She's a participant in her school's band, choir, basketball team and other programs. But Megan, who recently received 9 Who Care recognition, may have made her biggest impact recently in the Caribbean country of Haiti.
Megan appreciates new clothing more than most teens her age. When she was growing up as an orphan in the Ukraine, she literally had little clothing to call her own.
"I just had one pair of shorts I wore in the Ukraine and when my (adoptive) parents came to get me, they got us new clothes and the first thing I had was a dress," Turnes said.
Megan still has a photo of that dress Connie and Marty Turnes got her at age eight when they traveled from Vinton to the Ukraine to pick up Megan and her now brother Mitch from the same orphanage. The lesson stuck. Years later as an Iowa teen, she got involved with a Catholic youth group. She learned about the orphans in Haiti and the need for new clothing there. So she started sewing using a dress pattern for pillowcases.
"Pillowcases already have a form to it. Add straps and embellishments and you've got a dress," Turnes said.
Megan sewed about two dozen dresses for kids in Haiti by herself. But then she set up displays at her church and other places and began recruiting and organizing other volunteers. Last summer, several hundred pieces of clothing made by Megan and the volunteers was ready to go. And a church leader going to that country made a delivery to villages.
In January, Megan and her mother stuffed several hundred more pieces of clothing into suitcases and traveled to Haiti with another group. They delivered the dresses and saw firsthand how much it meant to Haitian children.
Connie Turnes, Megan's mother, said "she told me once these dresses were worth more than gold to these girls to have a pretty dress." And Megan echoed that thought.
"The look on the girls faces is like gold to them. It was fun, we picked our favorites we wanted specific girls to wear," she said.
For Megan, a new year brings a new goal. She plans to have other clothing, including school uniforms, shipped to a village devastated last summer by Hurricane Isaac. She has seen with her own eyes how much a simply piece of clothing can mean.