The Working Wildcats have opened a closet they hope will meet a physical need for current and future students.
A banner bearing the words “Welcome 2 the Working Wildcats Clothing Closet” hangs above racks of clothes and shoes in a small room in Shelby County High School. A binder rests on a shelf until a student picks it up to log another donation—a pair of pants, a dress shirt, a jacket, a prom dress, a pair of shoes. Garments are organized by type and size, and are hung neatly under labels. The room, essentially a large walk-in closet, likely would make even the pickiest organizational expert proud upon inspection. The credit goes to a group of students, their teacher and others who have supported the group’s efforts to transform an out-of-use restroom into a place that fosters both altruism and entrepreneurship.
The Clothing Closet is the culmination of nearly eight years of work by Special Education teacher Soli Lilly, her students in the Working Wildcats program and other school staff to meet a physical need for students. They were collecting donated clothes and shoes long before they had a designated space to display them for students who needed something. Over time, however, the need for somewhere to properly hang up and store the clothes other than one side of an already full classroom became more pressing. Lilly had an idea.
She thought if the group could enlist outside help to work on the old restroom, which had been a makeshift storage space most recently, they could turn it into a closet for their non-profit clothes operation. Alabama Power stepped up to the task, partnering with the Working Wildcats to revamp the room and install the hardware necessary for hanging clothes. “They took the project on, and it came to life,” Lilly says. “It takes a village; it’s not just me. It’s neat to see a vision come to life after all these years.”
In the Clothing Closet, students can find an outfit for a job interview, a change of clothes to meet the school dress code or formal wear for prom—to borrow or to keep, depending on their needs. The operation also allows students with special needs who are in the Working Wildcats program to gain valuable skills they can implement at home and at their jobs before and after graduation. Even small tasks related to the closet can help students hone skills. For example, they are responsible for retrieving the key to the closet from designated SCHS staff members and unlocking and locking the closet before and after use; processing and sorting clothing and shoe donations the program receives; keeping the clothes and shoes in the closet organized and catalogued as students borrow or take items; laundering borrowed clothes before they are returned to the closet; and manning the closet during use. One of the best parts of the Clothing Closet is students working it don’t even have to leave campus for their shifts. “Everybody needs retail experience, and everybody needs life skills,” Lilly says. “Our ultimate goal is for them to become productive members of society and be employable. We wanted to build independence and help others.”
In October, Lilly and her students participated in a ribbon cutting ceremony and gave community members a tour of the closet and the program’s other classrooms, one of which houses the washer and dryer the students use to launder the clothes that go into the closet. Senior Matthew Wright was greeting and leading visitors from the front of the school to the closet, and senior Seth Kober was telling visitors how completing tasks such as folding and hanging up clothes has helped him prepare for future jobs. He has served as manager for the SCHS basketball team since his sophomore year, and hopes to hold a similar role wherever he attends college. “It helps me a lot,” he says of working in the Clothing Closet. He has even been on the other side of the operation; he borrowed a shirt one day after a spill left his own shirt unwearable.
The Working Wildcats are in immediate need of hangers, including pant, tubular, velvet and wooden hangers for different types and sizes of garments. Ongoing donations the Clothing Closet accepts include the following: T-shirts, blue jeans, socks, undershirts, tennis shoes, business attire, prom dresses, dress pants, dress socks, dress shirts (white), dress shoes (black), accessories, athletic wear, winter coats, new packaged undergarments, laundry soap or pods and hygiene products. All items are needed for male and female students.
Donations can be dropped off at the SCHS office. The program also incorporates items from the school’s unclaimed lost and found in the closet. “Something you think is trash is somebody else’s treasure,” Lilly says. “We thoroughly enjoy what we get to do,” Lilly said. “We’re here to serve and to serve others. We hope this Clothing Closet stays here forever. It’s amazing.”
For more information about the Working Wildcats Clothing Closet, email firstname.lastname@example.org.