How to transform an empty space into a "Rachel's Closet"

When Rachel’s Challenge heard about an amazing FOR Club project at a middle school in Pennsylvania, they knew they just had to see it for themselves.  Learn about how one school is changing their culture with kindness and compassion with clothing.

Read the interview between Rachel's Challenge and Dana Godfrey, the Middle School Counselor, FOR Club Leader and Founder of Rachel's Closet.  Watch the video below about Rachel's Closet.

Rachel’s Challenge:  What is Rachel’s Closet?

Dana:  The closet is a project that the Friends of Rachel Club decided to do in order to help other students.  It really developed into what it is because of their ideas and the way they thought it would best serve students.  We really never dreamed of having something like this but it has evolved into a really great thing, not just for the kids who are in need but also for the kids that work in the closet.  They can be a part of it by donating things and helping others.  It's just created a really nice kind culture here. As a school counselor, I've never seen this type of culture before.  This is a really unique thing.  It's really one of the best things that I've done as a school counselor and working with groups of kids.

We really never dreamed of having something like this but it has evolved into a really great thing, not just for the kids who are in need but also for the kids that work in the closet.

Rachel’s Challenge:  Why did you and the students ultimately choose to do a closet for the school?

Dana:  We were looking for ways to help kids that made them feel good.  Often times when kids are in need, they’re embarrassed.  They don't want to seek out help or want anyone to know.  With this (Rachel’s closet), I think it really has made it okay either if you’re the person that's giving or if you’re the person that's receiving.  It's just kind of that whole idea of being kind to others that really helps everybody feel comfortable and want to be a part of it in one way or another.  It's different than going to see a counselor and them helping you privately versus you can come here and find things that are in style and feel like everybody else and not different.  The families really appreciate this as well because they know that it's here.  They can have their kids get what they need when they need it. It helps takes the stress off parents because they have a lot of things to worry about.  Kids in middle school are old enough to come in and take care of what they need.

Rachel’s Challenge:  How does the closet close the gap between students in need and other students?

Dana:  I think it's hard to explain the how much of a ripple effect it has on relationships with kids.  It just helps them feel more comfortable with each other because they know this is here.  They can be there for somebody else and help somebody else.  We've never had a situation where somebody donated something and then somebody was wearing it and there was a problem.  We've only had proud moments where somebody might say, “I donated those shoes and look somebody's using them”.  That’s the awesome part of it.

Rachel’s Challenge:  What was the exact need that your school was trying to fulfil?

Dana - FOR Club Leader:  It was to definitely help the kids that might need school supplies, clothing or hygiene items.  These are all things that families sometimes struggle with purchasing.  We found over time that we actually needed food and that's why we started the pantry.  We were hearing from kids that they were going home and there's no food.  We wanted to have things that they could take home that they could easily prepare like microwavable foods and things like that. It was something to tie them over until we can get them more help.

Rachel’s Challenge:  What is the process for student if they want to utilize Rachel’s Closet?

Dana:  If a student wants to visit the closet they would either request on their computer through our Google help center to come in or they would let a counselor know and stop in and say, “I need to visit”.  We are the ones that help arrange a time to visit for them that works.  We try to keep them in class during academic times and have them visit during nonacademic times.  We've had emergencies where they do come in during class.  Sometimes the kids want to shop just on their own and other times they want someone to help them.  Sometimes the Friends of Rachel are here and kids will come in and shop while they are present.  They can help show them around and explain what is here and help them pick things out.  One of the times I can think of when kids were shopping together was when there was an 8th grade recognition night in the spring. The kids got dressed up in semi-formal clothing.  We had that kind of clothing available here.  They came groups and shopped together.  That's kind of fun for them and kind of takes away the stigma.  It's a group thing and it's fun.

Rachel’s Challenge:  Can you describe the daily routine of the closet?

Dana:  So after somebody requests to come in, we would have everything available for them.  The Friends of Rachel would check each day on donations and they would sort them and wash them and then they hang them.  They would decide where they need to go.  When we have special items, they might put out an announcement saying “We got lots of warm coats.  It's getting cold out there.  Come on in for some boots”.  For summer time, they would say, “Come and pick out some shorts.  We just got a bunch” and do the marketing side of things.  Very often we get kids coming over and over and over again - very frequent shoppers.

This is not the work of an adult it's the work of kids. It is very doable as long as you have kids that are interested in doing it.

Rachel’s Challenge:  How have you been able to make this sustainable for three years?

Dana:  Well I would just say that one of the keys that we learned throughout the couple years we've had this, is to be more selective about what we keep.  We get so much that we can’t keep it all.  We do a lot of donations ourselves.  We have a clothing drive.  We donate things so that it gets used by somebody in the community.  I would say that's a big part of it.  There's really one main adult working with this program and then the kids that come in daily.  We have about 25 kids a year that will rotate through to work.  Once they get trained they come in and do the work.  It’s like a work schedule.  I am really proud of the kids because they have done the work.  This is not the work of an adult it's the work of kids.  It is very doable as long as you have kids that are interested in doing it.  We have never had trouble with finding kids wanting to work in here.  In fact, we have more and more each year that want to do it.  It might seem overwhelming but it's really not.  As long as you have kids that are working with it.  It really should be them doing the work and not the adults doing the work.  I think that the benefit of it comes from all the satisfaction they get from doing what they do.

Rachel’s Challenge:  How did you get a classroom donated for this project?

Dana:  We pitched the idea to our principal.  He was very open to finding a spot for us.  This was a room that was used as an in-school suspension room but it really wasn't being used as often anymore.  You can pretty much make a Rachel's Closet anywhere you want of any size.  This room in particular didn't look very pretty.  The kids came in and painted the walls and made a nice and bright.  They added all of the posters.  They designed what posters they wanted.  They put their hands on the walls.  That was their idea, to make it like Rachel's hands.  It's just come a long way from there.  I think it is unique and hopefully other schools will be able to find a space for it.  It doesn't matter the size.  It's really just the idea behind it and having the people that want to help with it.

Rachel’s Challenge:  Anything else you want to share?

Dana:  I would just say that this project has really meant a lot to me personally and I just I feel like Rachel is here.

If you would like to share your FOR Club project with Rachel’s Challenge, please contact Janet Stumbo at jstumbo@rachelschallenge.org.

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