DeLynn Mittleider used to bring clothes to school that her own children had outgrown. The special needs strategist at Jamestown High School kept the items in her storage room in case a student needed something.
“... you know, there’s accidents, there’s ripping pants or anything,” she said. “And then I found that the counselors were coming to me because they found out that I had a little supply of clothes in my room to ask if I had a warm coat for a student or some gloves, and I always would go back into my tubs in my storage room in my classroom and find them. So then I decided it was time to set something like this up.”
“This” is the B-UniQue Clothing Closet, a nonprofit student-run business at JHS that opened in the fall of 2020 where students can shop for anything they want or need - and everything is free.
The freshmen and sophomore students in Mittleider’s work experience class operate the “clothing closet,” as it’s referred to, learning skills as well.
“I wanted to start this quite a while ago,” Mittleider said of B-UniQue. “I felt that there was a need for it because we were having a lot of kids needing things.”
Mittleider, B-UniQue adviser, and Cheryl McIntyre, JHS choir director and adviser for the Z Club, an extension of the Zonta Club at the school, collaborated together to manage B-UniQue, Mittleider said.
The Z Club provides an opportunity for leadership, McIntyre said. While the club promotes women’s leadership it is not restricted to girls, she said. For B-UniQue, students in the Z Club help publicize the business and have helped with back-to-school shopping events and prom dress/tux showcases.
“We’re trying to get the word out to my other peers (about B-UniQue),” said Madison Grieve, a junior who is a member of the club. “Just like put an emphasis on ... you won’t be judged on what you take" and everything is free.
The difference with this nonprofit business is that everything is donated by parents and the community, said Mittleider.
“Our main goal is we know that there’s a lot of families who basically financially are strapped and this is our way of helping their student,” she said. “... students have a lot of baggage nowadays, it seems to me that they have to worry about a lot of different things. And one thing they shouldn’t have to worry about is coming to school and not having something nice to wear or having hygiene products that they can use at home to make themselves feel good. I just feel it makes their education a lot better when they are prepared for school.”
Mittleider said B-UniQue's mission is to serve students in need of a little extra help with getting daily necessities and students striving to do well academically who need an extra boost so they can focus on their education and not meeting basic needs. That helps the individual and also improves the overall community as the students become contributing members of society, she said.
Adam Gehlhar, JHS principal, said the school has grown the number of student and school-run enterprises over the last few years.
“Many of our students are very engaged and community focused because of these opportunities,” he said. “These types of opportunities are great as they benefit the students with real-world work experience and entrepreneurial experience.”
They also benefit the community and reinforce the school’s mindsets of “live to give” and “we are all connected,” Gehlhar said.
The program’s seven mindsets promote “the healthy productive mindsets we want our students to practice,” he said.
The “We Are Connected Mindset” teaches students that everyone who comes into their lives can contribute to the achievement of their dreams. The “Live to Give Mindset” teaches students that life’s abundance moves in cycles. In order to receive love, respect and financial security, they must be willing to give those things to those around them.
The clothing closet
B-UniQue Clothing Closet initially was located in early 2020 in a small space near the Commons area at the high school last year but increasing demand - and “poufy” prom dresses that take up more space - prompted the move to a more private, larger room on the main floor in the building, Mittleider said.
The current location provides enough space for a dressing room for students to try on clothing as well as inventory that includes coats, prom dresses, hats, gloves, other clothing and personal hygiene items such as shampoo, shaving cream, body wash and toothpaste. Tuxes and suits are coming, Mittleider said. With prom scheduled on March 28, there’s a high demand for dresses that many parents simply can’t afford to buy during a pandemic, she said.
Tawni Wanzek got one of those dresses for prom. Wanzek was homecoming queen and got a dress for that, too, in the fall at B-UniQue, she said.
Eliza Garzia, a freshman, said she didn’t have shoes for her band concert and got them at B-UniQue. She got jewelry and a curling iron, too.
Dominic Radtke said his pants tore one day and he was able to get another pair at B-UniQue to wear that day for school.
“I also got an extra pair of shoes for my PE class,” he said.
B-UniQue is also handy for such times as when a student forgets something like a needed tie for a concert or gym shorts. The students in those situations were able to find what they needed at B-UniQue, Mittleider said.
Other students might simply want to shop.
“I just like going to see what they have, maybe like repurpose some things to things I like,” said Jayden Pizinger, a freshman.
Kathy Burkle, the school librarian, said she sees students in need at the school.
“I had a student the other day that didn’t have any gloves in this cold weather and went down there (to B-UniQue) because he needed gloves,” she said. “We just have a lot of kids that with COVID their parents don’t have jobs and there’s no money and they are growing and they need clothes.”
Mittleider thinks the need for items has grown since the coronavirus pandemic began.
“Before it was just maybe a coat here or a coat there that a child needed,” she said. “But they’ll come in and they’ll actually do their shopping here.”
Two siblings picked out all their school clothes there, she said.
Students getting items are grateful, she added.
B-UniQue is open when staffed during the school day and by appointment with an administrator or counselor.
“Some kids are comfortable coming in here and looking at things (when it’s open),” Mittleider said. “Some kids may not be so comfortable so those are the kids that we let them know you can also make an appointment. Go see a counselor and a counselor can bring you in at any time.”
Students learn skills, gain work experience
Students in Mittleider’s work experience class are responsible for the general operation of B-UniQue including such jobs as cleaning, stocking, washing clothes and hanging them, she said. They also work shifts in the store to interact with "customers". Those tasks teach a variety of skills.
Of those B-UniQue workers, Jake Hastings said he hangs up items on the racks, while Lawson Adams picks up donations every week that have been dropped off at the school to bring to the room. Sammie Kolden said one of her jobs is to make sure the shelves are clean.
Being able to check the inventory and stock when it’s low are other tasks. Students also vacuum and clean the store and make sure it’s ready to open, Mittleider said.
Community supports B-UniQue
Mittleider said community and staff support for B-UniQue is appreciated.
“This came today,’ she said, pointing to donated items. “We’re getting donations quite a bit from the community. I came in here the other day, there were eight bags here of brand new stuff that a lady on Facebook messaged me, and she went up and bought all the brand new items, hygiene items, to school.”
McIntyre noted the community has provided new prom dresses previously and continues to support B-UniQue.
"It’s amazing what the people in Jamestown are donating," she said "Some of the clothes still have tags on them. Some of the clothes are brand new.”
Donated clothing that is considered unusable is sorted for cutting for rags, quilt squares and button collecting.
“We’ve already got a business that has requested 10 boxes of rags for their business and they gave us a donation,” Mittleider said. “We don’t ask for money for those things, if they want to give a donation that’s fine.”
Those monetary donations will be used to buy things that are needed, she said. Hygiene products, for example, run out pretty quickly.
Other clothing that the students won’t use - baby clothes that were donated, for example - are given to Orphan Grain Train, Mittleider said.
To donate to B-UniQue
Items may be brought to the Jamestown High School office, where a donation box is located.
Clothing donated should be for teens, clean and free of stains.
Suggested items to donate
Clothing for young men and women
Shoes, all sizes (dress, tennis, boots, sandals)
Bar soap or liquid body wash
Curling irons, blow dryers