There is a small high school located off of State Road 19 across the street from a farm and an auto dealership in Nappanee, Indiana. It is like many other high schools in the state of Indiana, except that, it is taking care of some in house needs. Northwood High School is working on a project that helps children in need by providing quality clothing to them through loving interaction. They are not blowing the trumpet and shouting from the roof tops to show their good deeds, they are quietly supplying children with clothing that makes them feel confident and supported. In a back hallway that receives little foot traffic from students and is known mostly to faculty and staff at Northwood High School, there is a small beacon of light that is beginning to radiate from the school. This small, out of the way room provides much needed love and support for students that may be going through a rough patch in life. The room itself would be empty and worthless if it were not for the idea of Chelsea Yoder, a 26 year old Job Coach. She began working in the Wa-Nee School Corporation several years ago and felt a desire to reach out and help children in need. Chelsea is going on the second school year of heading up a clothing pantry that she aptly named, “My Friend’s Closet” which is aimed at helping students feel confident about the clothing that they wear. The process is intimate and meant to make the children understand that they are cared for by the teachers, faculty and the surrounding community.
The clothing pantry was inspired by other schools such as Grissom Middle School and by facilities such as the Family Christian Development Center. It is important that children are able to wear clothing that they can feel confident in. But it is more important that the child knows they are greatly cared for by someone, and that is what My Friend’s Closet is attempting to do, supply a need, while simultaneously touching the heart of a child. Wa-Nee school corporation is a close knit community that serves roughly 3,000 students. And My Friend’s Closet is a shining example of how community members can positively impact a school. The community is incredibly supportive of My Friend’s Closet, while interviewing Chelsea Yoder she said, “I think that the community already has responded well, I’ve had teachers specifically ask, ‘What does this student need? What does this little boy need? What can we buy for him?’” Chelsea has also been blessed by community members bringing in bags full of brand new clothing from brand name stores as a donation to the children that she serves. The principle of the school has even donated items for the closet. It is easy for adults to give and it is generally seen as adults that can respond to children in need, but Chelsea believes that peers should also be intimately involved in caring for their classmates.
“Last year’s school motto was Branching Out, and teaching children not just stay in your clique but branch out to the other kids in the community or in your school.” Chelsea said. The students are not the only ones that have learned to branch out, Chelsea sought to “fill the need” that was not taken care of, she saw the Family Christian Development Center and other clothing and food pantries were operating on hours that were not convenient for children and she found that, “Inside of a school we can take care of the need right away, on the kid’s schedule.” Her endeavors have not been futile, last year she met with a student that was going to a job interview and he needed a new pair of jeans, she was able “to hook him up with a brand new pair of very nice jeans… and he got a job.” Chelsea and her colleagues hope that as time passes more students, “will receive the job that they deserve instead of being judged based on their appearance before they have a chance to prove that they are worth their weight.” Chelsea also has dreams that other students will, “branch out,” she hopes, “this will be the center for branching out and teaching children that if you donate your clothes and you see someone else wearing them that should make you feel good.”
Being admired is something everyone longs for, Chelsea fondly remembers going back to school shopping with her mom, and how those times influenced her to help children in need, she reminisces, “My mom took me back to school shopping and how good I felt when I had that new shirt or new jeans that I felt confident in and felt good in, it made me perform better, it made me want to try harder, and I thought, ‘these kids deserve the same opportunity, they deserve the same forethought and love and care that I received.’ There’s a need and these kids need to feel special.” Through her work with My Friend’s Closet Chelsea has realized that giving brings joy to the person receiving as well as the person giving. Her passion is to be an “advocate and talk to other people and encourage them to also give, and to feel the same amount of, just happiness… it fills you up to know that these children are being taken care of and that you are doing something to gain confidence and build them up to live the best life.”
My Friend’s Closet is a light to students, it is seeking to “branch out” and show children that they are admired. Through the valuable community, faculty, and staff at Northwood High School, children are gaining confidence and self worth. Chelsea reminds us, “Every kid deserves…to be taken care of, every kid deserves to be you know; loved and admired and hoped for and prayed for and wished for. And when you help them you solidify that, ‘I’m there for you.’”