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East Bay Teenager’s “1 Closet” Charity Helps Clothe Thousands of Students

August 29, 2013
Laura Graham

1 Closet Founder Laura Graham

Bishop O’Dowd High School senior Laura Graham and her successful charity, 1 Closet have helped over 6,000 teens in need of basic clothing. Starting at the age of 14, Ms. Graham, with the support of her family, has collected and distributed over 15,000 gently used clothes to organizations throughout the Bay Area. Along the way, Ms. Graham has been recognized with numerous awards and media attention, after struggling early on to get her organization off the ground. For students wanting to make a difference in their community, but aren’t sure where to start, read on. What inspired you to start 1 Closet?

Laura Graham: “1 Closet stemmed from a simple dinner conversation. My dad was telling me about how a co-worker who had adopted a teenager and as a family we spoke about all the troubles you would go through as a teen in foster care, how little money there would be for items like clothing, and I thought ‘I can do something about this’. I have a lot of clothes I don’t wear, and so do my friends.” Why is clothing so important for the teens you are helping?

Graham: “I find clothing to be an expression of who I am, and the way I’m feeling. I also find that clothing can bring a lot of confidence. I see that teenagers who don’t have nice clothes, who are wearing hand me downs that are torn or stained, have less confidence, and that could be one reason they don’t want to go to school. I think it is important we make it easier for teens to fit in.” Since 2011, you’ve collected over 15,000 garments valued at $105,000 and helped over 6,000 teens. What advice do you have for other students looking to make a difference in their community? Where did you start and how did you get to where you are today?

Laura with Donations

Laura with Donations

Graham: “We started small by asking for clothes from neighbors and friends, and then we asked students at my school. At first, there wasn’t that big of a turnout. And while we collected some garments, we faced the problem of trying to donate the clothes. Surprisingly, a lot of organizations don’t take clothing, and turned me down. A lot of places didn’t take me seriously because I was 14 years old, and people didn’t understand what I was trying to do, even though I tried to explain my goals. I overcame that challenge by having my mom call for me which really helped in the beginning.

“At times it was hard to stay motivated because there were a lot of obstacles. For example, getting the 501c3 charitable organization status was really hard because we don’t collect money, we collect clothes, and as a result we didn’t have any money to pay for the cost of becoming a 501c3. So instead we went under the umbrella of an awesome organization, Random Kid, which provides 501c3 status for organizations run by students under 17.

“What kept me going was knowing that there was such a big need. I remember talking about what I was trying to do with a store owner one day, and she really encouraged me. She told me that the idea was awesome, that there was such a need and that she’d seen it first hand because she worked in the clothing industry. That really helped keep me going.

“Over time I started giving interviews on TV and radio, won several awards, and the publicity encouraged more schools to join.” How do the clothing drives with schools work?

Graham: “We do clothing drives throughout the school year. I drop off bins at participating schools on Monday and provide informational flyers that detail what types of garments we accept. For example, we don’t take shoes or undergarments, but other than that we let the schools run the clothing drives the way they want to. The schools collect clothes for a few weeks, I pick-up the donations and sort through the clothes with the help of my mom, we box and store the clothing and then find organizations to accept the donations. We typically get 500-1,200 garments per school. Right now, sixteen schools in the Bay Area work with 1 Closet.” What advice do you have for students trying to maintain a balance of school-related work, extracurricular activities, and the type of volunteer work you are doing?

Graham: “It’s all about time management. You have to know what you have to do, and how long it’s going to take, and plan for it. Sometimes that may mean not going out with your friends because there are bigger things to get done. You just have to set your priorities, and if you stick to them, you’ll be good.” What are your plans after high school?

Graham: “After high school I hope to attend the University of Arizona and major in business with a focus on marketing, and possibly enter the pharmaceutical industry. As far as 1 Closet, I hope to hand off the organization to school organization or club, because I don’t think 1 Closet should stop, there is a really big need for what we are doing.”

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