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Despite surgery, woman hits goal of 100 dresses for Africans

| Saturday, Nov. 9, 2013, 7:06 p.m.
Eric Felack | Valley News Dispatch
With cutout dress fabric and sewing supplies in front of her, Joyce Napierkowski smiles as she tells of her lastest cancer-test results coming back negative.
Eric Felack | Valley News Dispatch
Joyce Napierkowski of Freeport works on one of the 100 dresses she is making for African children.
Eric Felack | Valley News Dispatch
Joyce Napierkowski uses a variety of bright colors and patterns for the dresses she is making for African children.
Eric Felack | Valley News Dispatch
Joyce Napierkowski of Freeport selects fabric for one of the 100 dresses she is making for African children.

Even something as traumatic as breast-cancer surgery wasn't about to stop Joyce Napierkowski from reaching her goal of making 100 dresses for impoverished girls in Africa.

The Freeport resident is using the dresses project and her volunteerism with other organizations as therapy.

Napierkowski has 76 dresses made and ready for distribution by a Christian missionary and educational group that will be traveling soon to war-torn Mozambique.

Heading to east Africa will be Patty May of Miracle Mountain Ranch, a Christian school and retreat in Spring Creek, Warren County.

“I heard about this while attending a women's meeting at Faith Community Church,” Napierkowski, 59, says. “I love to sew, and after I had my surgery, I got tired of sitting around. I cut out 25 dresses, then made 25 more.”

She hopes to reach her goal of 100 dresses by Thanksgiving, when May will come to Freeport and pick them up.

“What a great surprise this will be for those girls,” May says. “They're just wearing rags right now. Mozambique just went through a 17-year war. The life expectancy there for males is 28, for females it's 27.”

Napierkowski isn't going, but May and her group, part of Children's Relief International, will travel to Dondo, a city of 60,000 that is thought to be the poorest section of Mozambique, which is about the size of California.

What kind of payment is Napierkowski expecting?

“The only thing I want is a picture of some of the girls,” she says.

Napierkowski's upbeat attitude is no surprise to others who have worked with the lifelong Freeport resident.

“She's an outstanding volunteer,” says Mary Jendrey, Main Street Coordinator for FLAG, a civic revitalization group serving Freeport, Leechburg and Apollo. “She's amazing. Joyce came to the rescue when we had to have a reorganization. She chairs our design committee.”

Napierkowski will also chair a spaghetti fundraiser for FLAG, set for January.

“Her spirit is what I like about her the most,” Jendrey says of Napierkowski. “Her smile and her energy is inspirational.”

The colorful dresses are sure to be welcomed in Mozambique.

“These girls have absolutely nothing; this means so much,” May says. “I can't wait to meet Joyce.”

Other challenges in Mozambique will be the start of the monsoon season in the southern-hemisphere country and the possibility that girls will have their dresses stolen and sold by others to buy food.

May has been with Miracle Mountain Ranch for 17 years, starting as food-service director. She is now the Dean of the Women for the School of Discipleship, serving college-age students at the private school.

Napierkowski's cancer recovery is also going well, having recently been declared “cancer free.”

“I think Dr. Heather Miske of the Kittanning Cancer Center has done a great job,” Napierkowski says. “And making the dresses is part of the healing process.”

After losing her hair as a result of chemotherapy, Napierkowski cheerfully wears a ball cap that says “My oncologist does my hair.”

Napierkowski has also done work for the Freeport Kiwanis Club and Meals-on-Wheels, among other groups.

George Guido is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.

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