Four recent graduates of a Huron County Project Leadership class were tasked with creating a stable service that would benefit the life of at least one person in the county.
In the fall, guidance counselor Libby French and assistant Principal Chris Sheldon were discussing what they and some of Western’s teachers had noticed — not all of the students had adequate clothing.
About the same time, Project Leadership class members Nicole Bumb, Lori Huff, Chris Warrick and April Woody decided their service would be providing clean clothes for children in an local school. So they reached out and “pitched” their project to schools in Huron County.
The only interested party was Western Reserve.
“When we contacted the school, … you guys were on it. We could tell you were excited,” said Huff, 47.
That excitement was shared by French and Sheldon. But it was also mixed wth anxiety that they wouldn’t be able to give students what they needed.
“I would say to Chris (Sheldon), we need this, but how would we ever do this?” French said.
Luckily, the answer came the day before Thanksgiving when Bumb, 30, a Project Leadership group member, reached Western Reserve.
Almost immediately the news was conveyed to the assistant principal.
“Two months working on a project, figuring out ways to meet our students’ needs and these ladies come knocking,” Sheldon said.
“I think the project became a lot bigger than any of us thought it would be,” said 30-year old Woody. “I mean, we were thinking ‘a small closet’ — something that would help children that maybe didn’t have the means to help themselves.”
The first thing the group did after revamping the classroom they were given for the closet, was to put on a clothing donation-drive.
“The community’s support was overwhelming. They donated bags and bags and bags of clothes,” laughed Huff, who said organizing all the donations was one of the most difficult tasks.
The mother of two thanked Cox’s Laundry Basket in Willard, where she admitted she “dropped off clothes to wash for weeks.”
Warrick, 53, also was considered the group’s “laundry guru.” Her guilty pleasure was revealed to be doing loads of laundry.
“We definitely want to acknowledge the community’s support,” Huff said.
“Honestly, everyone’s support has been truly humbling. We kind of feel like a part of this community now. The students too — they’ve helped us as we’re carrying in clothing racks. And their parents — with the assistance and donations that would just come out of the woodwork.
“The hardest part of this for me will be walking away,” said Bumb as her voice cracked. “The community just really stepped up ... and that’s really what made this possible. We were just a drop in the bucket.”
“We also really need to thank Daniel Stover. He’s a local businessman and member of the community who really helped to ‘connect the dots’ by providing us his relationship with the school district and local entities — knowing what we were looking for and what they were looking to do is a big reason we were able to do this,” Sheldon said.
The Wakeman Red Caps and Civista Bank also were praised for their support, plus Fisher-Titus Medical Center and South Central Local Schools for donating racks and shelves. A plaque commemorating the involvement of Wakeman Red Caps and Civista Bank is hanging in the classroom used as the clothing closet.
Project Leadership’s partnership with a national non-profit organization’s RISEUp program was included in the giving of thanks.
“RISEUp is part of a curriculum that allows students an alternative pathway to graduation, supplying (service) ‘industry credentials’ to students who participate in the program,” French said.
The program will be offered beginning next school year at Western.
“The evolution of schools in the year 2019 has completely changed,” Sheldon said. “Yes, we are still (a backbone) based on academics, but so much more of school now is social-emotional. Being able to help meet our children’s needs in providing them with resources that are going to allow them to be successful.”
Although the group has graduated from Project Leadership, class members said not only do they want to help with the Clothing Closet next year, but they want to start it in more schools.
Sheldon said the closet has been “used several times” and gave students the chance to have free shopping sprees. Clothes and accessories vary in style with items sized 3T to adult XXL.
Huff said she wanted to see the students’ reaction to the store. Bumb agreed that removing the stigma surrounding “second-hand”/consignment shops is another important take-away from the project.
Even though the school year is over, people still will be able to use the Clothing Closet by appointment. Follow “Western Reserve Local Schools” on Facebook for more information.
Western Reserve’s Clothing Closet carries:
• Formal dresses
• Clothing sized from 3T to adult XXL