CLEVELAND — When you step into a small room tucked away at Albert Bushnell Elementary in Cleveland, you’d be hard-pressed to remember this used to be a room where kids came for detention.
“Now look at the decorations,” said Jeremy, Alexius, and Messiah. “We decorated this room. Before, it was just plain, white and dry.”
The three are “closet ambassadors” for the PEARLS mini-closet at AB Hart.
PEARLS is short for Positively Empowering and Restoring Lil’ Ladies Self-esteem. The mini-closet is a boutique-style space offering free items to students — not just needs, but also wants.
It is Brittney Smith’s brainchild, who is a CMSD product herself. She created the large scale version of this months ago in Gordon Square.
Free and fashionable clothes for anyone in need.
“We really like to meet people where they are,” Smith said. She started PEARLS as a mentoring group for girls in need and has continued to expand.
Alongside the tons of trendy clothing, shoes, and accessories, they also have hygiene items available for students — toothpaste, deodorant, soap and brushes.
“Just being in social services, I know that it’s always a hiccup for people to get items we believe should be necessary or given,” Brittney explained.
The goal is to give kids at AB Hart, from Pre-K to eighth grade, a dignified way to get what they need. and learn about sustainability and thrifted items at the same time.
And the closet ambassadors, who are students themselves — make the buy-in that much easier.
“We found that kids connect with other kids more than they connect with adults,” said Deandre Henley, Say Yes Cleveland family support specialist. “You can say, ‘These clothes and items are free, of course they’re worn or used,’ but it is coming from peers, kids are talking about how cool they are and more likely to come into the closet.”
One negative effect of a lack of clothing includes being talked about by peers while in school, making the PEARLS mini-closet a resource for students.
“I really and truly think nobody should be talked about because you don’t know what they’re going through, for real,” said seventh-grader Alexius.
Even in its inaugural year, there has been a lot of interest in the program.
“This is our first year doing the, there’s a lot of kids who have already been in here who actually like it,” explained Messiah and Jeremy.
The mini closet has been successful since it started in September. It is currently at three Cleveland public schools: AB Hart, Harvey Rice, and New Tech West high school, with hopes to expand even further.
Parents will also get a chance to shop in the closets for their students.
If you’d like to give items, monetary donations or check out PEARLS, you can click here for more information.