Stephens College alumna returns to raise money for Thai orphans

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COLUMBIA - It all started with a trip to a water park in Thailand. Stephens College alumna Katie Dillman took her private tutoring students on an end-of-the-year field trip, and one thing kept them from being completely happy.

She said she had to explain to the students that their younger friends in the "big brother and big sister" program are orphans.

"You're parents were nice enough to pay for you to go to the water park. Well, they don't have parents. So, we can't pay for them to go to the water park," Dillman said. 

She said the students were so let down because they knew the young orphans would love the water park. The students made a pack to help Katie raise money to bring them along next year, and so they did.


Make our day is a charitable organization dedicated to providing free educational programs for orphans of the Tsunami in southern Thailand. It provides after-school, lunch, summer, weekend, and tutoring programs for stateless children.

Dillman said the organization was founded in 2014 when she was teaching her students in her English class the word "Friday", and they didn't want to go home. 

"Because they live in an orphanage near the school and they got lonely on the weekends," Dillman said. "So I walked to the orphanage with them and they said, 'teacher will you come back tomorrow?'"

Since the next day was Saturday, Dillman said it wasn't her original plan to come back "tomorrow", but she did.

"I came back everyday and it made their day. So, we named it Make Our Day," Dillman said.


Katie didn't stop at raising money for a trip to the water park. She recently partnered with a fashion marketing class at Stephens college in order to raise money for the orphans in her charity. 

The students in the class are responsible for managing a fashion clothing line for Katie to later sell during Black Friday.

Professor Courtney Cothren said the collaboration creates responsibilities that engages students to gain experience with a real-world company. 

"The project is huge. They did research on the company and Thai culture," Cothren said. "They have all of her finances, and they have to look at that and asses what are the best sellers and what are the worse."

The students are also in charge of figuring out what Dillman needs to do to hit her sales goal. They have to decide how much should go into tops, how much should go into pants, how much she needs to spend, and how much she needs to buy.

Other responsibilities include creating a social media posting calender, doing a photo shoot with samples from the clothing line, product packaging, and finding a plan to help her reach the biggest amount of customers.

Sophomore Shayauna Wilkerson said she enjoys the partnership because the project is more hands-on than ones she's done before. She said she enjoys being able to work one-on-one with Dillman. 

"It's really cool to see your ideas go into something so big," Wilkerson said. "It's cool to give Katie our feedback, and she implements what we have to say into what she's doing for Make Our Day."

Cothren said she loves this project because the partnership allows the students to do work while also helping someone. She said she believes this could be the first time a fashion class a Stephens had this type of charitable partnership. 

"I think this is also exciting because it's a way for students to do good, and help the world, and help other people through fashion," Cothren said. "It makes them think that hopefully there is a bigger picture."

She said the students knowing they're helping orphans in Thailand push them to keep working when the project gets tough.

"There's the real world part, the collaboration with Katie and working with a real company and seeing real results. But, then there's also a sort of service learning part where you're actually doing good through fashion." 


All the clothing and accessories made during the project's partnership will be up for sale on Black Friday. Right now, they are planning to sell on Make Our Day's Instagram page, but they plan to have additional selling platforms as the deadline comes.

Dillman said the community can also get involved through donations. The text-to-donate number is 1-417-356-3159.

"My organization is ran 100 percent on donations. The shop will be a fun way to boost our fund raising goal for the holidays and take advantage of that time frame," Dillman said.

Cothren said anyone who wants to get involved can read the Make Our Day blog where you can see the donation model. She said $50 funds a play-date, and $100 funds an entire day of camp, but anything helps.

"My son who's eight will give her $5, then she'll tell him that she bought three watermelons and it was enough snack for all the kids in the orphanage."

Cothren said what's great about this line is that the funds are not going to this huge company with tons of administrative cost. She said consumers and donors can see what the money is going to. 

Dillman post photos on her blog to allow everyone to see what she did with the money from donations and from shoppers.

Cothren said she's pleased to see someone making an impact on the word. She said she believes one person can make a huge difference.

"There's so much bad in the world," Cothren said. There's all this stuff that you want to fix. So this is one tangible way that you know you are helping."

Dillman said she wants everyone to see it's completely possible to move miles and miles away and start your own organization.

"Even if it wasn't what you planned on doing... it's still possible," Dillman said.