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Rotary Clothing Closet helps build kids' confidence

Contributed story • Jun 2, 2018 at 7:00 PM

KINGSPORT — Let’s take “Suzie.” She is nervous to come to school because she has to wear the same T-shirt almost every day. Take “Bobby.” His shoes have holes, and he is embarrassed to stand at the school bus stop. These are real stories kids rarely share.

The Rotary Club of Kingsport wanted to do something about that. So it launched the Rotary Clothing Closet in coordination with the Kingsport City Schools Homeless Education Program (HEP). This effort is the club’s Legacy Project, meaning it is something the club hopes to become known for.

Research shows that if a kid can show up feeling good about the clothes he or she is wearing, then he or she can have a better day. Starting the day with confidence is so important for these children.

What is Rotary’s mission? Service Above Self. The Rotary Clothing Closet is a perfect example of giving to others in need. It builds confidence. Kids need that.

How did it get started?

In August of 2013, a couple of Rotarians approached the school system about student needs. As a result of that meeting, it was determined that new clothing was critical to the school system’s homeless children. After the type and sizes of clothes were determined, Rotarian Vaughan Valentine became the shopper and purchased needed items.

The Rotary Club of Kingsport holds fundraisers for this effort and has received Rotary District grants to further the cause.

Efforts were made the following year to obtain a more permanent location for the Clothes Closet at Kingsport City Schools Administrative Support Center because the inventory was larger than it had ever been.

How many students does the club help?

Typically, the program serves about 100 kids each year. Therefore, almost 600 kids have been helped since the Rotary Club began the program.

Because children grow so quickly, clothing assistance tends to be one of the most requested services for HEP. Due to grant restrictions, KCS is limited in what clothing items it can purchase using program funds.

Michele Wilder, HEP director, said, “We are extremely blessed in our community to have churches and agencies that provide gently used clothing to those in need. Rotary has really stepped up because there are times when those clothes closets may be limited in what sizes and clothing items they have available.”

The Rotary-sponsored Clothes Closet onsite allows HEP staff members to address student clothing needs quickly and efficiently. They can take clothing directly to the schools and exchange clothing for a different size when needed.

A project within a project

HEP was in need of storage for the clothes. Because staff members never know what size will be needed each day for students, there was a need for a designated storage area for clothes, coats, shoes and more. So the Rotary Club of Kingsport took that on too! KCS was able to dedicate space in the Administrative Center, and the Rotary Club of Kingsport built permanent shelves to store all sizes needed in one location.

The Rotary Club of Kingsport has raised more than $40,000 since launching the project in 2013. It will continue to serve as many students as needed to ensure kids can start their day off right.

The Rotary Clothing Closet is the Rotary Club of Kingsport’s Legacy Project. This club also has Signature Projects which consist of service projects. For example, for Kingsport’s 100th birthday, the club built new picnic shelters at Borden Park.

If you’re interested in supporting the Rotary Club of Kingsport’s Clothing Closet or becoming a member, please email KingsportRotaryClub@gmail.com. If you’re interested in joining Rotary, you are encouraged to attend a meeting on Wednesdays at noon at the Press Room behind Food City in downtown Kingsport.

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