What started out as a group of students brainstorming in Kellie Slabodnick's fifth-grade health class at the North Ridgeville Academic Center last year has turned into a project that helps students in need.
Now at the main entrance to the building for grades five through eight, students, staff and community members can drop off donations for Rachel's Closet year round. Since October, the large bin has been getting filled with items such as winter coats, hats, gloves, non-perishable foods, soaps, hygiene products and new or gently used clothes.
The outreach program helps provide the students’ peers with basic needs and promotes a safe, comfortable learning environment. Slabodnick's students chose to follow the mission of Rachel's Closet after reviewing about a half-dozen programs last year. The Colorado-based program is named after Rachel Joy Scott. She was the first student killed during the mass shooting at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, on April 20, 1999. Although the students and community have been donating items since October, Slabodnick and her students plan to officially kick off their Rachel's Closet this month and accept donations.
Rachel's Closet began soon after Rachel Scott’s parents read their 17-year-old daughter's journals. The journals revealed that the high school senior wanted to start a chain reaction of her beliefs, which she wrote about in an essay titled "My Ethics, My Codes of Life" a month before her death.
Now, the North Ridgeville students are part of Rachel’s Challenge, and about 25 students belong to Friends of Rachel. The club’s aim is to advocate for Rachel’s values, based on her life, her journals and her belief that compassion is "the greatest form of love humans have to offer."
"We are excited about Rachel's Closet here at the school," said Slabodnick, who has taught in the district since 2011. "We have been working hard to get it up and running and have a lot of great donations from the community. We have come to realize that we have students here with basic needs. The word is getting out about what we're doing here. People aren't afraid to ask for help."
Donations are accepted during the school year, and the school plans to put a Google form online or provide a link to its website where students can discreetly request an item they need. High school students also are becoming involved with the intermediate school students and are planning to build a shed to store items, Slabodnick said.
Seventh-grader Maggie Ellis and eighth-grader Zareen Sulaiman are among the students who recently joined the club.
"I wanted to help people," Zareen said. "I like to help people feel good, and I like helping people who are in need."
Ellis said she likes working with like-minded students in the club.
“I see kids in my school who are in need,” she said. “I want everyone in school to feel good about being there with the only thing they need to do is learn."
Senior Bailey Warner has been helping organize students in her building as word has spread about the program and interest has grown.
Friends of Rachel has been meeting from 2:50 p.m. to 4 p.m. each Tuesday in Slabodnick's classroom.
Following the holiday break, resumed meeting on Tuesday, Slabodnick said.
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