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Ready to wear: Phoenix ESPs provide clothing to students in need. (Outreach).

Thanks to the efforts of support professionals in Arizona, students in Phoenix high schools will always have clothes to wear to school. Now, students who didn't even have socks for their physical education classes are provided for, and those with old, tattered shoes can replace them with newer ones.

"Learning is much harder if they do not have anything to wear to school," says Norma Duran, a member of the Phoenix Union High School District Classified Employees Association. Duran oversees the Clothing Connection, an Association effort that supports students and families who cannot afford to buy clothing. The program keeps in school those students who would otherwise frequently miss class because they do not have anything to wear, Duran says.

Duran, who became chairwoman of the Clothing Connection in November 2001, has expanded the program with help from other members of the Phoenix Association, many of them community liaisons who assist local families and students with their problems. Today, all of the district's high schools have clothing deposits that resemble small stores where students can select the items they need.

Students can go to the clothing deposits on their own or at the request of a school employee. Visiting the Clothing Connection is like visiting the nurse's office to receive a new shirt to replace a ripped one, says Dean Walker, president of the Phoenix Union High School District Classified Employees Association. "But today a student needs more than a shirt," he adds.

School staff, parents, and the community donate clothing for the program. Volunteers then wash the donations, sort the clothing by size, and display it on racks. The local Association also organizes fund-raisers to buy underwear and shoes for the clothing deposits.

Mary Kouts, former president of the Phoenix local, created the Clothing Connection in 1987 at Metro Tech High School.

"The majority of the time the parents just didn't have the money for clothes. Some kids were going to school with no shoes on. It was sad," says Kouts, now the substitute coordinator for the Wilson Elementary School District.

During the first few years of the program, the local Association organized carnivals and pig roasts to raise money for the clothing deposit at Metro Tech. The school's administrators, staff, and students supported the program, Kouts says.

But the program suffered a setback in 1996 when the Metro Tech clothing deposit closed because the school needed the space for other purposes. After the Association lost the clothing bank, the Clothing Connection still received some monetary contributions and provided $150 stipends to students who needed clothing. Students would then go to a store and buy clothing with a school employee.

Unfortunately, the program did not collect enough money to satisfy student demand. So, the program again turned to clothing donations.

Norma Duran began donating her own clothing at Camelback High School two years ago. After a month, Duran's friends and colleagues had donated enough clothing to sustain a clothing deposit. Meanwhile, other ESP members organized a clothing bank at South Mountain High School. These two locations served as models once the Clothing Connection expanded to all of the district's schools in August 2002.

"When we find out a kid needs clothes, we act immediately," says Juanita Tillman, who volunteers in the clothing bank at South Mountain High School.

Students are not the only ones who benefit from the program. In predominantly Hispanic schools such as Camelback, the Clothing Connection has assisted entire Mexican families who had arrived in the United States with no other clothing except what they had been wearing, Duran says.

Since its creation, the Clothing Connection has helped thousands of people in the district.

"Every student who is assisted is a success," says Walker, Phoenix Association President.
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Author:Arce, Irene
Publication:NEA Today
Date:Jan 1, 2003
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