Every little girl dreams of how she’ll look on her wedding day--whether she’ll wear a poufy-white confection of tulle and satin or something a little more sleek and sophisticated, how her hair will look and how her veil will drape dramatically just so, how her groom’s breath will catch when he sees her walk towards him.
Whatever the vision she has in her head, however, that vision certainly never clouds with the realization that the fantasy might somehow be impossible to achieve. But for many brides-to-be, the dream of a dress is out of reach because finances make it a challenge. That challenge served as inspiration for Heidi Janson, who founded Brides Across America in 2008, essentially creating a solution that would unite military and first responder brides with perfectly matched dresses donated by bridal salons whose hearts were moved with the desire to give back.
Beginning with only a small network of salons that donated their time and resources to spearhead the program in its earliest stages, Brides Across America donated fifty gowns in its first year to military brides. In 2016, the organization enlarged its mission to include the first responders who, much like their military counterparts, were heroically putting their lives on the line every day.
Now in its tenth year, dozens of Operation Wedding Gown donation events are hosted at participating bridal salons nationwide by Brides Across America. During each Operation Wedding Gown event, brides are gifted with free dresses that have been specially donated; and to date, more than 20,000 wedding dresses and over twenty free weddings have been united with deserving brides who would otherwise never have the opportunity to bring their dreams to life.
“At our very core, Brides Across America believes that one seed planted can grow many leaves, and it is our duty as Americans to support each other and pay tribute to our troops. We believe in changing lives and in transformation, and if we can change one life and make a difference, we have done what we set out to do,” Janson states. “By taking action today, you can unite with us in passing on the love and making a dream come true.”
The organization has an ongoing mission that is both inspiring and aspirational as it has implemented several new initiatives that will allow for the expansion of their reach and their impact to create person- and couple-specific directed-giving opportunities including fully-gifted weddings, provisions of financial support for specific couples, and the ability to honor loved ones through directed-giving. “We want to unite our country and spread more love around the world, one dress and one wedding at a time,” Janson explains. “It’s amazing to see how the work that we’re doing is accomplishing that, and these are people who deserve to be honored for the sacrifices they’ve made in service to our country. This should be the day they’ve always dreamed of, and we have the opportunity to repay them in this.”
As its outreach increases, Brides Across America has certainly gained attention by media outlets all across the globe including ABC’s Nightly News, People Magazine, HGTV, The Steve Harvey Show, and The Doctors. Its highest honor of all, however, came in receiving recognition during The Joining Forces Community Challenge at the White House hosted by Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden. During the event, twenty organizations were recognized for their contributions to improving the lives of military families, and Brides Across America continues to do just that by supporting wounded warriors and those suffering from post-traumatic stress and offering ongoing support to veterans re-entering the civilian workforce.
“Whether it’s for love of country or love at the altar, our military and first responders deserve our very best,” Janson says. That’s a vow worth taking, and one that can make millions of dreams come true.