Photo by Hannah Rose/The Comets' Tale
A New Beginning for a Local Non-Profit
Ken Clark worked with special education students from Grand Ledge for many years before he passed away in 2010. Following his passing, concerned community members chose to recognize him in a way that would honor his personal mission.
For the past six years, Ken Clark’s Coat Closet has diligently worked to provide the Grand Ledge community with free clothes, personal care items, and other useful materials. They have helped countless people in the community, not only through these means, but with their GECKO (Giving Eaton County Kids Opportunities) program as well. GECKO helps the non-profit organization give special education students a chance to learn valuable skills for the future.
The non-profit organization started their mission on the third floor of the Sawdon building. As of Sept 9, the organization opened their doors to the community out of their new building located at 501 S. Clinton St.
“This summer we had to vacate our space at Sawdon, so we are no longer supported by the school,” Sarah Mida, Director of Ken Clark’s Coat Closet said. “My family and I leased a building and moved all of the stuff over from Sawdon to our new building so that we could continue to provide the service for clothing, personal care item, and backpacks to people in the community. Also, it still provides our students in our special ed program a place to go gain work skills. To me, it meant so much to our community and to our students that I just couldn’t let it go.”
The Coat Closet works with students from Grand Ledge, Potterville, Eaton Rapids, and the Eaton Resa Post Secondary Program. Last year, a total of 18 different students worked for the non-profit at the Sawdon location. This year, at their new location, they expect about the same number of students. These students sort donations, go to the laundromat to wash items, size clothing, hang and display items, help pack and deliver orders, and clean the space. Doing these tasks helps teach the students to follow directions, teamwork, communication skills, and independence.
“It is very different than in the classroom environment when they learn how to put those things into practice by doing them hands-on,” Mida said. “They’re learning independence skills as far as being able to do the laundry and hang clothes, and interacting with the public. Each student has a job description that they follow and we have coaches out there with them. Our goal is to help them become more independent at work and ready to go get a paid job when they’re done.”
The students help out at the nonprofit Monday through Thursday during their 4th and 5th hours. On Fridays, they attend class for a seminar on work skills and being a good employee. While the students are gaining valuable skills and helping out the community, they also enjoy their time helping out at the Coat Closet.
“I like going to different areas, like taking stuff down to the gym,” senior Ian Cypher said. “Especially different places to take care of and throwing clothes into different aisles [to] let the truck take them away, and go outside for a little bit.”
The Coat Closet has already helped students pursue work outside of school. Due to how hard senior Michael Bryant worked at the non-profit, he was hired to work at ACE Hardware over the summer. Here he used skills taught at Ken Clark’s Coat Closet to do jobs, like cleaning and sorting the store, at ACE.
Ken Clark’s Coat Closet is currently accepting donations to give back to members of the community, as well as orders for necessary items. They will be open most of the day Tuesdays, and the rest of the week from 12:30-2:30 to take donations. To get further information about donating or receiving donations, people may visit the organization’s website at https://sites.google.com/view/kenclarkscoatcloset or email at [email protected].
By moving locations and getting their own space the organization has been able to become more involved with other community organizations, as well as continue with their mission to help out the community and give special education students a hands on learning environment.