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New Threads Empower Teens in California

Guest Blog Post Written By: Caroline Wilson

They say that clothes make the man, and I’d like to share with you an amazing experience which has proven this point in the lives of my students.
I am a teacher in a high school program for students on formal probation. My students are kids who don’t have enough and have never had enough. They’ve faced personal, emotional, and socioeconomic difficulties their whole lives. Yet despite all the challenges they face, I have seen wonderful successes during my time teaching, and have seen many of my students grow and mature to great lengths.
A few months ago, I got a call from DonorsChoose.org. DonorsChoose.org let me know that there was a matching grant available from PG&E (Pacific Gas and Electric) for people in my area and urged me to apply. Of course, there are a million things my students need. But, there has been one thing I have always wanted for my students: nice, well-fitting clothes. My students regularly wear very casual, poorly-fitting clothes that do not reflect how they have overcome their disadvantaged backgrounds. I dreamed that with a clean, professional wardrobe, they would be taken seriously and judged for their true merits.
So, I told DonorsChoose.org about my desire to buy professional clothes for my students. We got off the phone and within an hour I received a call letting me know that I would be fully funded – no matching funds required. PG&E would donate the entire $3,000 needed to purchase new clothes for my 22 students!
I told my story to Maggie and Victoria at our local J. Crew Factory Outlet store. They loved the idea and got the company to work a miracle deal: I was going to be able to buy two collared button down shirts; two well fitted pants and a belt for each student.
Still, I was stressed. I knew it would be difficult to convince my students to entertain the idea of moving out of their comfort zone to wear a different, more professional style of clothing. But when the day came to take the students to J. Crew to try on and pick out their clothing, they were game. I marveled as student after student came out of the dressing rooms to model for me and get my approval.
When the day finally arrived on that first morning, they all came dressed in their new clothes. Each student strolled off the city bus or out of their parents’ cars beaming. They made me bring each teacher to our classroom to see their new look. “We look like you!” they said to the teachers. Then, I had to parade them through the administration office on my students’ insistence. Every member of the faculty and staff here on our campus and I were so excited to see the students so happy and proud.
It has been a few weeks now since the students have gotten their new clothes. I ask them if they are judged differently; they all say yes. They tell me they get smiles and compliments from adults. They look good, and they know it.
It is amazing to me how clothes can make such a difference. My students have turned a corner, and I can’t imagine they will want to go back. There is just too much positive reinforcement coming their way.

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