Rhonda Dodson, Skyler Tipton, Gabrielle Butz and Alexander Butz, left to right, have spent the summer creating Byrnes High’s Clothing closet.Rhonda Dodson modeled her merchandise displays on those she saw at Carol’s Hope, a thrift store that supports children with cancer.Interact Club volunteers sorted, folded and hung donated clothing to be displayed in the stores.

Byrnes students hoping to make difference

Julie Holcombe's picture
With school clothing closet
Julie Holcombe

One dedicated teacher, several involved students and a community of faithful supporters are spending their summer knee-deep in jeans, shoes, handbags and hangers in order to make a difference in their school.

Byrnes High science teacher Rhonda Dodson, along with her Interact Club volunteers, began working the week after school was out on their largest service project since the club’s organization in February–a school clothing closet.

“This is something I’ve wanted to do for probably a decade, and we never had the space for it. So it’s always in my mind,” said Dodson, a former Interact Club member herself, who introduced the idea at Byrnes. “When the new wing opened up in February, then that freed up these spaces to be utilized for the stores…And it emerged from a store–thanks to the community support–to stores, plural.”

Formerly, teachers would try to meet personal needs on an individual basis when it was brought to their attention. However, with a 45.3 percent student poverty rate at the school according to District Five’s 2016 Report Cards, Dodson recognized that the needs could be better served with a store, and presented the concept to Principal Todd Hardy.

“I think it’s great. Anything we can do to help the students, I’m all in favor of it,” he said. “We’ve got almost 1800 students in the building. Some are a little more fortunate than others, and I think this meets a tremendous need for our community.”

Dodson asked friends on social media to begin collecting clothing donations, and just three weeks after official collections began, the project had grown to include five separate spaces holding boys and girls clothing, shoes, book bags, lunch bags and accessories.

Members of the Interact Club generated and voted on the names for the individual shops: Byrnes Boutique (girls clothing and accessories); Rebel Racks (boys clothing and accessories); Rebel Reserve (formal and career attire); Command Central (headquarters); and Off-Season Storage.

Repurposed bookshelves no longer needed in classrooms after the renovation will display clothing along with hanging rods that will be installed along the walls. An Amazon wish list has been created for other equipment including rolling racks and size dividers. A DonorsChoose grant to purchase socks and undergarments was fully-funded within a week of posting.

“We are a fortunate district, so we have a lot of students that are giving and a lot of the community members that are giving,” Dodson said, adding that The Middle Tyger Community Center, The Carpenter’s Table and numerous church groups also provide food to families in need.

Clothing and hanger donations will be accepted throughout the year in the school lobby during normal hours (7 a.m.-4:45 p.m. Monday-Thursday during the summer), and a receipt of donation is available if requested.

Of special need now are clothing in sizes above small, items for boys and hangers.

“We’re in a shortage for the boys,” said Skyler Tipton, Interact President. “Our biggest need now is getting men to donate the clothes that would be needed because right now we have almost triple in women’s compared to men’s.” The Byrnes Clothing Closets will be open to all Byrnes High students, regardless of need. Items will be available at a nominal cost, and arrangements can be made for free store credit for those needing assistance.

Principal Hardy is implementing a new “Power Hour” in the coming year during which students can eat lunch, serve detention, complete make-up work, attend club meetings, or shop/volunteer in the stores, which will initially be open on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

The stores will be operated and managed by students, who will get work experience by stocking and pricing.

Interact Club is the youth division of Rotary International which focuses on teaching leadership skills and promoting “service above self” to children ages 12-18. The Byrnes chapter is sponsored by Spartan West Rotary Club.

“The club is used to help further the community and to provide social services that are not provided by the community itself,” Tipton said. “We are trying to amass the community into a group for furthering the social skills, leadership and the community itself to make it the best it can be.”

The stores are expected to be open beginning with the school year, a moment that Interact Club Vice President Gabrielle Butz is looking forward to.

“I like watching it all come together, knowing that it’s for a good cause and knowing that when it all comes together that it’s going to make students happy,” she said. After volunteering with the project, her brother is excited to see the group meeting physical needs in an atmosphere traditionally known for its educational offerings.

“I feel like it’s more fun to watch someone else happy instead of just helping them with school. It’s more than just school,” said Alexander Butz, Interact member. “You know you have clothing there that people need and that people want. It’s not just for people that can’t afford it, it’s for everyone.”

Eventually, Dodson hopes that the club’s impact will extend beyond the school walls and District Five community by purchasing a survival box with matching funds from the Spartan West Rotary Club. The boxes provide emergency shelter and necessities to victims of natural disasters, such as the recent flooding in Columbia.

“Down the road, when the stores are well-stocked and making a profit, I would like to give back to the community,” she said.

For more information about Byrnes Clothing Closet, visit the school’s Facebook page.

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