Orange Park High to host clothing program for those in need

Jesse Hollett
Posted 2/15/17

ORANGE PARK – Orange Park High is using the latest fashions to remove yet another obstacle to student engagement and attendance.

The school rolled out a new clothing closet Feb. 10 to fill a …

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Orange Park High to host clothing program for those in need

Posted

ORANGE PARK – Orange Park High is using the latest fashions to remove yet another obstacle to student engagement and attendance.

The school rolled out a new clothing closet Feb. 10 to fill a gap in services available to students and sew holes in student attendance rates that social workers attribute, in part, to a lack of clean and decent clothing.

“We do a lot of work with kids who have poor school attendance and sometimes, frankly, that’s because they don’t have proper clothes to wear,” said Karla Nachtsheim, Orange Park Junior High social worker. “It could be clothes, it could lack of nutrition or it could be lack of school supplies. So we want to take away all of those barriers.”

The new clothing closet is a partnership with the Jacksonville-based nonprofit Dignity U Wear that was founded 16 years ago by Holocaust survivor and philanthropist Hendri Landwirth.

“He knew what it meant to go without clothing or food, so that’s where that Dignity came in,” said Cheryl Estevez, director of agency relations with Dignity U Wear. “He felt like if you give someone a pair of underwear or some clothing that they would lift their head up and not be ashamed.”

The foundation gets its clothing from popular manufacturers. The clothes may have simple defects, such as a missing stich on a logo.

None of the clothes are hand-me-downs. On the contrary, they come from some of the most popular clothing brands around such as Tommy Hilfiger and Calvin Klein.

“I have students who come in for clothes on a regular basis,” said Susanne Hall, Orange Park High social worker. “The first two students who came in – separately – came in and were like ‘wow,’ and immediately went and got clothes.”

The closet is open to all students in the Clay County School District who have a need. However, the need is apparent at Orange Park High where 54 percent of the student body receives free or reduced lunch. Students qualify for free or reduced lunch based on their parent’s income.

The new clothing closet creates a path for instant fulfillment and allows social workers to end the previous practice in which social workers submitted requests for clothing after identifying a needy child. The old system took a week – sometimes two – to process the student’s request and send out the clothes. With Dignity U Wear, students will have immediate access to the clothes they need.

Social workers themselves will run the closet along with student volunteers.

“It’s really a partnership to be proactive, to really help students and help them in a way that helps them not only be successful in our classrooms, but successful in our hallways and successful outside of our community,” said Addison Davis, Clay County School Superintendent, who was at the Feb. 10 ribbon-cutting.

Orange Park High opened ‘OP Outfitters’ nearly a decade ago to provide students with basic essentials such as toiletries and basic food items. The school expanded the program in October to provide a ‘one-stop-shop’ for foods of all kinds, not just microwavable items.

“OP Outfitters was created…for at risk children that need help, so, obviously, now with Dignity U Wear coming in, we’re not only to help Orange Park students, but now the entire county,” said Clayton Anderson, OPHS principal. “[It’s] a phenomenal opportunity.”

The Dignity U Wear partnership expands necessary basic services to students to allow them to focus on their school work. Next week, Anderson said the new ‘Suds and Studies’ program will kick off. In the same room as the food and clothing closet sit washer and dryer units. Students will be able to wash their clothing at no charge while at the same time receiving tutoring for their classes.

“Education is the most important thing,” Anderson said. “But we also know that our children are dealing with real life problems, so if we can take that away from them for about eight hours and they know they have food, they know they have clothing and school supplies, et cetera, then that’s a worry they don’t have to face…so they can focus on their education.”

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