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What if you could share your passion for fashion and do good at the same time? Talk about retail therapy! That’s exactly what 17-year-old Allyson Ahlstrom did when she started Threads for Teens, a non-profit organization and boutique that provides head-to-toe outfits for deserving underprivileged teens. To date, she and her flock of fashionistas have raised more than $140,000 in clothing items, services, and funds—and the world has taken notice: Allyson has earned awards from the Red Cross, Kohl’s Cares, Soroptimist, and many others. Find out more about
You were inspired to start Threads for Teens after reading an influential book. Tell us more about this experience and how you were able to get things up and running so quickly!
Allyson: I received a book called Generation Change, by Zach Hunter, for Christmas in December 2009. I picked it up on January 17th, 2010, and was so intrigued that I finished it in two hours. I was impressed by the different service projects that teens had completed that were highlighted in the book. That evening, I came up with the idea to outfit 10 girls in two head-to-toe brand-new outfits, along with a letter, a logo, and a name. To get Threads for Teens off the ground, I sent out over 300 letters and emails to different clothing companies soliciting donations. Within hours of sending the first email, I had my first donor, which was incredible. After that, donations kept pouring into my house. Really, what made Threads for Teens get off the ground and into reality was sending letters asking for people to support my idea.
Tell us a bit about how Threads for Teens works – where do you collect the clothes from and how do you select the recipients?
Allyson: Threads for Teens is a non-profit clothing boutique located in Windsor, CA. Girls who come to the boutique are mainly in foster care, group homes, or living in extreme situations of poverty. Girls are able to come to the storefront location and pick two head-to-toe outfits, all for free. This includes two tops, two bottoms, a dress, a purse, a sweater, and two accessories (scarves, jewelry, belts, etc.). All the clothes are donated from clothing manufacturers, such as Tommy Hilfiger, Claire’s, and UGG Australia. Girls come to the boutique through referrals from social workers, school counselors, foster parents, or other people in the world of advocacy. There is a nomination form on the website where an appropriate party may nominate a deserving girl.
Allyson: The plan was always to open a physical boutique; however, for the original event, it was only supposed to be used for a week at most, in August 2010. We started in a deli space that was vacant. After the original event passed, the owners of the boutique said that Threads for Teens could stay for several more months and get rid of all the remaining clothing as there was a lot left. A couple months turned into a year and a half. When the owners, Lori and Bill DenBeste, said they needed space for offices, but not to worry, they bought a new space on the Windsor Town Green, a prominent shopping and event area.
You called on the talents of many friends and family to make your boutique special. Tell us more about this labor of love!
Allyson: Threads for Teens takes a lot of work to maintain. Thankfully, I have a team of many faithful volunteers who are always more than happy to volunteer. Keeping the boutique organized is one of the main tasks that volunteers help with. After just one shopping trip, it can become quite disorganized. Recently, when Threads for Teens obtained the new location, many people came to help, which was absolutely incredible. We painted, made clothing racks, and cleaned for days. Without the help of my family and friends, the new boutique would not be the beautiful reality that it is today.
Threads for Teens became a non-profit last September. How has the new status helped your organization to grow?
Allyson: The non-profit status has helped Threads for Teens to grow immensely! With the status, it is easier to obtain more donations and establish Threads for Teens as a permanent and thriving organization. Threads for Teens held an auction gala fundraiser and without the 501(c)(3), many donations would not have been made. The event was extremely successful; moreover, we raised over $20,000!
Do you consider yourself a fashionista? How does running Threads for Teens mesh with your career goals?
Allyson: I definitely LOVE clothes and always enjoy putting outfits together. When I started Threads for Teens, I wanted to be a fashion designer, but from running Threads for Teens, I have found that I more enjoy the business aspect of running the boutique. Threads for Teens definitely meshes with my career goals because I would love to be working somewhere in the fashion industry, preferably on the business end. Threads for Teens has taught me many valuable skills about life and business.
What would your advice be for others who want to start a non-profit that matters?
Allyson: If you want to make a difference, you, most importantly, need to be passionate about the cause you are pursuing. If I didn’t love Threads for Teens, I wouldn’t be able to devote as much time as I do to tending to all the different aspects. So the big number one is to be passionate. The second thing that I recommend is to go out and start. It doesn’t matter where—just find someone or something that needs your help and give what you can. The rest will come later as ideas began to build in your head. And, if you ever need any advice at all, I am always happy to answer an email.
You just finished a backpack drive — can our readers help in any way?
Allyson: Definitely! Threads for Teens will be going on a national tour next summer and visiting the 48 continental states. Make sure to ‘like’ us on Facebook to receive all the latest updates about when Threads for Teens and I will be near you! Also, if you have a prom or formal dress that has been worn once or twice, Threads for Teens would be more than happy to give it to a girl who needs one! Please shoot me an email and we can figure something out. More ways are listed on www.threadsforteens.org
How would you like to help Threads for Teens? Share your thoughts in the comments!