WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. – The difference between a student going or not going to school can come down to their clothes, said Bonnie Kennedy, whose non-profit has sent children in need on a $200 shopping spree before each of the last 28 school years.
Back-to-School Clothes for Kids (BTS) will hold 25 SWAT (Shopping with a Teen) events to clothe hundreds of students from five to 18 years old. This includes 40 who live in a White Plains shelter. Each gets $200 and the assistance of a volunteer from one of program sponsors.
Jessie Clarke, 18, bought jeans, sweaters, sneakers and shirts at Old Navy with the help of a volunteer from Regeneron, which has helped BTS clothe about 160 kids.
“I feel like it’s a blessing,” said Clarke, who is starting school at Westchester Community College and hopes to become a dietitian or nutritionist.
Nakaya Belton, 17, just moved from Syracuse to White Plains, and will start at White Plains High School in the fall. She said she didn’t expect this to happen to her.
“I was surprised because I didn’t know that people had organizations likes this to help kids,” she said.
Since Kennedy, a New Rochelle resident who grew up in Yonkers, started BTS in 1986, it has clothed about 20,000 children in need, including close to 1,000 in 2013.
Regeneron and Reader’s Digest employees have volunteered to shop with and pay for the teens’ new school clothes.
“I think it sends a message to a child that they’re important, that schools’ important,” Kennedy said. “There’s a lot of peer pressure about how you look and sometimes it’s the different between a teenager going to school and not going to school.”
Kennedy said she remembers starting school with new sneakers and how good that felt.
“I think everybody remembers a positive first day of school and feels good about it, or a negative (first day) and maybe feels poor about it,” she said.
Ivan Smith, coordinator of Youth Service at the Coachman Ivan Smith said getting kids new clothes for school helps them start the year on the right foot.
“For the kids who go shopping it’s really exciting time for them plus it gives them an opportunity to see people from the community who actually care about them and don’t prejudge them,” he said. “They really take it as being blessed.”
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