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Non-Profit Spotlight

Teen Closet

It was tough for KXLY­4 News Anchor Robyn Nance to stay professionally detached when she began profiling teenagers in foster care for her “Wednesday’s Child” features.

“These kids were amazing and they were hurting,” Nance recalls. “You consider your own children, and how deeply you love them, and imagine a child who doesn’t have that feeling of being special and cherished. They all deserve it.”

Realistically, Nance couldn’t have brought each child home with her, even if she wanted to. But she didn’t exactly stay detached.

After a cup of coffee with foster parent recruiter Linda Rogers back in 2006, the two women, with different backgrounds and a shared vision, opened Teen Closet less than a year later.

The boutique ­style shop, now in its eighth year of operation, is lovingly stocked and fashionably arranged by community volunteers. Teenagers, either homeless or in foster care and pre-screened by social agencies, can enjoy free, bi­annual shopping sprees.

“We’ve had children come to our home with only what they were wearing,” admits Cathy Mason, whose own foster children have been able to pick out trendy wardrobes from Teen Closet.

“These children already have a label on them for being foster kids, so having nice clothing helps them fit in,” Mason explains. “The people who donate and give their time are blessing the children themselves, and their families,” she says.

Mason and her husband have hosted more than 60 foster children in respite or short­term care.

There are roughly 11,000 children in foster care across Washington, only a handful of whom Nance will meet and attempt, through tenderly­produced TV new segments, to place with adoptive families.

“So, we want each shopping trip to be a big deal for the kids, and for them to know that there are communities of people who care about them,” says Nance.

“Allowing them to choose their own clothes grants these teenagers a little control over their lives,” says Yvonne Smith, who serves on the Teen Closet Board and volunteers with her teenage daughter.

“Offering kindness, dignity, and a little bit of autonomy makes a difference for kids going through one of the worst circumstances of their lives,” says Smith. She admits Teen Closet has been approached about serving their teenage clients in different ways, such as advocating for education or healthcare reform.

“It’s tough, but we want to stay true to our original mission; to lovingly provide fashionable clothing and accessories,” she says.

Yet Cathy Mason asserts Teen Closet does much more than that.

“The wonderful volunteers are providing acceptance and self­confidence. It gives these kids a huge, lasting boost.”