Columbia teens impact community with clothing drive

When Safire Windley helped form the teen outreach committee four years ago at the Columbia Association Youth and Teen Center at the Barn, she wanted to find a way for Columbia's youth to change and help the community.

It wasn't until Windley, the committee's supervisor, and the teens observed a young family walking in the cold without winter coats that the committee realized what they needed to do.

"There is a perception in Columbia that everybody has all this money, but there are still people in need," Windley said. "If we can do this small thing and impact the community in this way, then we've done something."

That something is the group's annual clothing drive, which accepts new and gently used clothes, shoes and accessories — including ties, belts, hosiery, hats, gloves, pocketbooks and jewelry — and distributes them to community members in need.

Windley hopes this year's campaign, in its fourth year, will result in the most donations yet.

"Every year we try to aim higher and higher, and this year is no different," Windley said.

Although the goal is always to improve, Windley admitted it will be difficult to beat last year's clothing drive, which distributed items to 452 individuals, almost twice as many as their projected goal of 250.

While last year's total will be tough to beat, Windley and the teen outreach committee has a new advantage this year. All 10 CA village centers have joined the Columbia Art Center, Supreme Sports Club and the CA Youth and Teen Center at the Barn in the collection effort.

All 13 collection boxes will remain open through Friday, Nov. 30. The donated items will be distributed at the Barn on Saturday, Jan. 19, from 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. and Sunday, Jan. 20, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

For Stephen Gantt, 17, an original member of the committee, working on the clothing drive strikes a personal chord, as his family relied on clothing and food drives when he was young.

"I know how it feels to be without, so I always like giving back to the community," said Gantt, a senior at Oakland Mills High School.

Gantt recalled the first clothing drive, and the feeling he got seeing families walk into the teen center on distribution day.

"It's the best feeling in the world to see that smile on someone's face," Gantt said.

Windley remembers that first coat drive, too, specifically one student volunteer who worked as a greeter. Windley said the student needed extra motivation during the collecting and sorting, but on distribution day she told Windley that the feeling of giving back was the best she ever felt.

"This is an enrichment program, and it is a moment like that when you know it's working," Windley said.

Gantt and Ian Harris, 17, an Oakland Mills High School senior and another original member, are serving for the last time on the committee. They both said it is important to pass the torch to younger members, like Oakland Mills sophomore Jubril Bello.

"If they haven't experienced giving back to the people, it's our job to show kids how good it feels to give back," said Bello, who is taking part in his second clothing drive.

Gantt said he plans to help volunteer next year with the clothing drive, which is the exact response Windley was hoping to receive when the drive first began.

"It's about instilling that feeling they don't forget, because they know they did something that really impacted the lives of the community," Windley said.

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