by Casey Uebelhor
Heritage Hills High School Special Education teacher, Mrs. Candy Wilkerson, has had a closet of clothes in her classroom for years. An extra outfit or two for students is an absolute necessity in case of spills or accidents, and the clothes were also available for students outside her classroom. “If a student would rip their pants, or have an accident or issue,” tells Candy, “teachers would send them down to me.”
Soon a concerning trend became apparent: students were coming to Mrs. Wilkerson’s closet not as a result of an accident, but simply out of a need for everyday clothing. Winter coats, shoes, undergarments, and other necessities — the devastating evidence showed that many high school students were simply going without.
Wilkerson is a member of the Heritage Hills School Improvement Committee. “We decided a few years ago,” she says, “that we needed better communication with the school and community. We have great PTO groups at our elementary schools, and we wished we could carry that over to our high school.”
Research demonstrated that only a few local high schools have PTO groups, so last year the Improvements Committee started PATS (Parent and Teacher Support) for both the middle and high schools. One of the group’s first projects was to extend the elementary school program, Bags of Blessings, into the upper grades. Through Bags of Blessings, students in need are given bags of food and other necessities every Friday, to keep them nourished through the weekend.
Then, the group expanded their efforts to clothing, participating in North Spencer Community Action Center’s voucher program, which enables students to visit the Dale center for an outfit, shoes, etc. It became apparent to Candy, however, that something more needed to be done. Students with transportation limitations often couldn’t get to Dale to benefit from the program. “And at the high school level,” tells Candy, “there’s a social stigma. So a lot of our kids weren’t even filling out vouchers.
The group decided to provide clothes at school, so that before school, after school, and even during study hall, “whatever works best and is easiest for them,” Candy says, students can come and get “whatever they need.”
Early on, the in-school program, called Threads, was boosted by a grant from the Spencer County Community Foundation, which provided new shoes to students. “It has been an amazing experience,” Candy tells of being able to provide students with new shoes. “It’s just been so awesome how much it has meant to the kids.” The success of the grant spurred organizers on, and their offerings have grown more streamline, more specific to individual student needs — socks, undergarments, pants, shirts, hoodies, sweaters, winter coats, scarves and gloves, sanitary products, women’s necessities — even formal wear and prom dresses. For example, during the week of graduation, between awards events, parties and graduation itself, the typical senior girl needs approximately four formal outfits. Threads acknowledges such challenges and seeks to rectify them on an individual level with students. The program is conducted with discretion and confidentiality.
Threads has no restrictions — no barriers to entry — no proof of need or family income reporting necessary, and the volunteers are all about breaking down stigmas. “It is for everyone,” nods Candy. “Anyone who needs it. That’s who it’s for.
“It’s something in our building that is wonderful, and it’s something that we need to embrace as a school and as a community,” says Candy, and that’s why the Threads team decided to host a Shop ‘Til You Drop event to get the word out to the public!
On Thursday, November 21, from 5-7 p.m., any student or parent of a student currently enrolled in Heritage Hill Middle School or High School, is invited to come by the Threads room and Shop ‘Til You Drop! Refreshments, including burgers and hotdogs, will be provided. Everything is free! The entrance is through the back doors of the high school, between the high school and middle school.
Candy says it’s a great way to prepare for the holidays. “Parents can pick the items. They can wrap them, and they can give them to their child,” she nods. “For some that’s a hard thing. This way, instead of coming from an anonymous community center, gifts for students in need can come from the parents.”
“We just want to show our families what we have,” she continues. “We want them to utilize it, and not be afraid to receive. We’ve seen a real positive shift here, and that’s what we want to build on.”
Threads will also host an Open House, December 13, during the home basketball game against North Posey.
Want to volunteer, donate, or otherwise connect with Threads? Because the program tries to meet students on an individual level, monetary donations are preferred. Contact Guidance counselors Ashley Tempel and Kathy Wilmes, as well as High School Assistant Principal Jeff Cochren, Middle School Principal Chad Schnieders, or Candy Wilkerson by calling 812-937-2400, or email Candy at firstname.lastname@example.org.
photos by Hope Davis