Stu­dents help build ‘share closet’ for Bloom­ing­ton shel­ter

Store will al­low res­i­dents to shop do­na­tions for free

Post Tribune (Sunday) - - News - By Brit­tani How­ell The Her­ald-Times

BLOOM­ING­TON, Ind. — Pe o p l e stay­ing at Wheeler Mis­sion Min­istries’ shel­ter will soon be able to get their sup­plies through a “shop­ping ex­pe­ri­ence,” thanks in part to ef­forts by Bloom­ing­ton Montes­sori School stu­dents.

Stu­dents spent class time re­cently a s s e mb l i n g shelves in the mis­sion’s Cen­ter for Women and Chil­dren base­ment on Op­por­tu­nity Lane. When they’re done, the base­ment will be trans­formed into a store, with shelves and cloth­ing racks dis­play­ing all the do­nated items Wheeler guests can claim for free, of­fer­ing a more dig­ni­fied ex­pe­ri­ence for Wheeler guests who are ex­pe­ri­enc­ing home­less­ness.

“What is dig­nity?” Josie Levine, com­mu­nity out­reach co­or­di­na­tor for Wheeler Mis­sion, asked a group of Montes­sori stu­dents, as they stood in the cen­ter’s base­ment, sur­rounded by the do­nated shelves they would soon be as­sem­bling.

Zade Rogers, 12, took a guess, re­mem­ber­ing Levine’s re­cent talk to their class about Wheeler’s mis­sion. “Hav­ing your own rights and be­ing able to do things other peo­ple can do?”

Ex­actly right, Levine said. “You guys are pro­vid­ing that dig­ni­fied ex­pe­ri­ence of ‘I can come in just like I’m shop­ping.’ ”

The “share store,” or “share closet,” has been a dream of Levine’s for some time. The peo­ple who come to Wheeler Mis­sion of­ten do so with very few pos­ses­sions, and have no re­sources to get clothes or sup­plies they need. But dig­ging through a plas­tic bag in hopes of find­ing some­thing suit­able for a job in­ter­view, or just some­thing that fits, “isn’t fun,” Levine said. Be­ing able to browse cloth­ing racks and shelves gives peo­ple a lit­tle more in­de­pen­dence, and a lit­tle more dig­nity.

But sort­ing all the do­na­tions that come into Wheeler Mis­sion, find­ing a way to dis­play them, and trans­form­ing the base­ment into a wel­com­ing space is a mas­sive un­der­tak­ing.

That’s where the Montes­sori stu­dents came in. They’re the lat­est in a line of vol­un­teer groups to help out with the project. They came aboard in Septem­ber, when the school’s pro­gram di­rec­tor, Jes­sica Davis, heard Wheeler Mis­sion needed a lit­tle help and reached out to see what they could do.

Montes­sori cur­ricu­lum in­cludes com­mu­nity ac­tion pro­jects, get­ting stu­dents to con­nect what they learn in school with ideas like global cit­i­zen­ship, so­cial re­spon­si­bil­ity and stew­ard­ship. Dif­fer­ent age groups tackle dif­fer­ent top­ics. The younger grades typ­i­cally learn about food in­se­cu­rity and host a canned food drive. The fourth- through six­th­grade stu­dents, who learn to­gether in a multi-age class of 36 kids, are fo­cus­ing on the topic of home­less­ness.

Davis said she typ­i­cally tries to find pro­jects for her stu­dents that are hands-on and in-depth. As she and Levine spoke about the Wheeler Cen­ter’s needs and vol­un­teer op­por­tu­ni­ties suit­able for the kids, Levine brought up the share closet. If the stu­dents liked, she said, they could take re­spon­si­bil­ity for a por­tion of the work.

On their work­day, a group of six stu­dents took a tour of Wheeler Mis­sion’s Cen­ter for Women and Chil­dren and trooped down to the base­ment to work on shelves to re­place the stacked milk crates.

The shelves came from the El­lettsville li­brary branch and had to be dis­as­sem­bled for trans­porta­tion, so the stu­dents had to put them back to­gether.

Davis plans to bring teams to Wheeler through mid-November to help get the store in work­ing shape by December.

Other stu­dents in the fourth- through six­th­grade class are lead­ing a drive to gather win­ter cloth­ing for the men, women and chil­dren who will visit the share store; while oth­ers are set­ting up col­lec­tion bins, or writ­ing emails to par­ents ex­plain­ing the project and ask­ing for do­na­tions to bring to the shel­ter.

“The kids have been work­ing on grid pa­per for max­i­mum space. It’s been worked into some of their math lessons,” Davis said. In art class, where the stu­dents are study­ing color the­ory, they’ll make gi­ant can­vas mu­rals to hang up in the share store to of­fer some bright, cheer­ful dec­o­ra­tion.

“A big part of our school is help­ing chil­dren be­come aware cit­i­zens and em­pow­ered in­di­vid­u­als,” Davis said. Hav­ing them do hands-on work at a fa­cil­ity that serves peo­ple in the com­mu­nity, and cre­ate some­thing that will ben­e­fit those peo­ple, helps stu­dents come to that aware­ness.

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