November 23, 2011 - Clarkston Junior High School student Sarah Head's goal is to make the world a better place. She's starting with her own classmates who need help.
Clarkston Junior High School student Sarah Head organized the Secret Closet to help classmates who need it. Photo by Phil Custodio (click for larger version)
"I wanted to do something that would affect the community and would, over time, help more people, not just students, but their families, too," she said.
Head, 14, took to heart a recent PTA effort to help a student who needed clothes and supplies.
"It's so sad – it's not right," she said. "Students need the basics to help them excel in school."
She organized a "Secret Closet" at the school, using a file room donated by the parent-teacher group.
"It's a great location, right down the hall from the counselor's office," Head said.
The project is for her Girl Scout Gold Award, but that's just the beginning. She wants to expand the program, including at Clarkston High School next year.
"I want to help solve problems not just in my community, but all over the world," said Head, who's interested in pursuing broadcast journalism as a career. "One of my goals is to be a Diane Sawyer Person of the Week."
The PTA and school administration spread the word through email and letters. Local residents and businesses responded with thousands in donations and roomfuls of supplies.
"Donations have poured in," said Karen Head, Sarah's mother.
The closet is fully stocked with clothes, coats, shoes, backpacks, personal care items and school supplies, but they need a continuous flow in donations and volunteers for long term success. Students looking to earn community service credit have been a big help, she said.
"I hope to get people organized to restock it every couple weeks," she said.
The Secret Closet project keeps participants' names confidential, assigning numbers instead. Students are referred by classroom teachers, counselors, staff members and parents.
"It's aimed at students who don't know where else to go for what they need," Sarah said.
A school counselor brings students in, they fill out a wish list, choose their items, put them in their lockers, then return to class.
"No one even knows it happened – even I don't know," Sarah said.
Secret Closet needs gently used backpacks, jeans and pants, shirts, sweatshirts, jackets, shoes and boots. New items needed include underwear, socks, toothbrushes and toothpaste, and personal hygiene products.
Donations are accepted the first Friday of every month before school. Email SarahsSecretCloset@gmail.com.
Phil is editor for The Clarkston News. He is a veteran of the first Iraq war, having served in the U.S. Army.