Alayshia Bridges recognized for founding community closet
The definition of a hero is a person who is admired or idealized for courage, outstanding achievements or noble qualities. Embodying all of these characteristics, 17-year-old Alayshia Bridges took it upon herself to support her peers by starting a Community School Closet for homeless and displaced families, and has since been recognized as a TD Bank Young Heroes Award winner.
One of just 12 winners from among a record-breaking 74 nominations, Bridges stood out as an ideal recipient of this award as she “identified an area where liberty was lacking and took action to make positive change in [her] local school or community.” She recognized not all of her fellow students at South Philadelphia High School had the means necessary to purchase the clothing brands or styles their peers were able to — causing a disconnect and making apparent their socioeconomic differences.
Thus, she worked with Janelle Harper, community school coordinator, to house the Community School Closet inside a room at South Philadelphia High School. Similar to a thrift store, with a key difference being that everything inside the closet is free to those with a student ID, the initiative was designed as a way to provide less fortunate students with the means to “fit in.”
“Ms. Janelle helped us with all the undercover work and we really all came up with this idea together,” Bridges, who is also a council member for Superintendent Dr. Hite’s youth advisory board and is on the Community School Committee under the Mayor’s Office of Education, said. “At our school, certain clothes mean something, and sometimes it changes how people will act toward others. When I brought this to her attention she really wanted to help.”
According to Harper, once the room was open, Bridges acted as its sales associate and encouraged students to use the clothing in the closet. Harper explained that Bridges’ great spirit helped lead to the success in opening the closet, and she worked to make it a safe space through encouraging every student to come in and shop with dignity.
“[Bridges] is a leader and a huge support to students and adults,” Harper said. “She is bridging together friendships from different cultural backgrounds, and keeps herself involved in the needs of her classmates. Watching that happen is absolutely beautiful.”
Additionally, Bridges, who is an incoming senior this September, supervised painting, stocked clothing, created a dressing room, decorated the space and planned a fashion show to showcase the donated clothes. She also contributed by completing more mundane tasks such as mopping the floors and moving equipment.
“I like since we started the community closet the environment at school has become more comfortable,” Bridges, who has donated pieces of her own clothing, said. “No one thinks like if you go to the closet after school, ‘What’s your problem?’ The kids don’t feel nervous about going to it.”
Having watched her work on the community closet endeavor, Harper explained that other students can learn from Bridges that they too can be a straight-A student and still be a major part of creating changes in the school community. Through Bridges’ efforts to encourage and motivate other people her age, Harper hopes that other students will learn to step out of their comfort zone and really push to be successful.
“[Bridges] is an amazing student and advocate. She has gone out her way to support the growth of the Community School and continues to support me in my role,” Harper said. “She set the tone for other students to follow in her footsteps.”
Bridges will join the 12 other Young Heroes winners at an awards ceremony at the National Liberty Museum on on Thursday, Aug. 10. At this ceremony, she will receive a certificate of recognition, medallion and gifts. Furthermore, she will be rewarded with a plaque featuring her story, which will be put on display for a year in the Museum’s Young Heroes Exhibition.
“Anyone, whether they go to the school or not, can donate clothes. I just ask that anyone who can help us by donating,” Bridges said. “It makes me happy that I’m able to help people out and do something great.”
For more information on the community closet, or to donate, contact Harper at: Janelle.Harper@phila.gov.