Teens’ Closet celebrates 10 years outfitting teens with clothing—and the confidence to change their lives

By Hilary Dartt • Photos by Trisha Shaffer

Krystal Koons is living her purpose: to show young people that it’s possible to break the cycle of poverty … and to empower them with the confidence and resources to do just that.

Ten years ago, Krystal and her daughter Kaileigh founded Teens’ Closet. They were cleaning out their own closets and wondered how they could get their clothes into the hands of people who really needed them.

“Something as simple as clothes can help build self-confidence,” Krystal said. That confidence translates into all areas of teens’ lives.

The associates see it for themselves whenever teens come in (they can shop every other month and take home six items each time):

“My favorite thing about Teens’ Closet is seeing the way a teen’s face lights up,” said Kaileigh, a Speech and Language Pathologist who recently moved back to Prescott with her husband, Tate. “Seeing their confidence change is exciting. I hear stories from my mom about how teens go on to careers and give back to Teens’ Closet and/or the community. Teens’ Closet helps them to get their lives headed in the right direction.”

Cheyenne Swearingen, who shopped at Teens’ Closet from the time she was 13 until she was 19 (she’s 22 now), said she found out about the program through Krystal, who was her health education teacher. Krystal handed out cards containing information about Teens’ Closet and Cheyenne told her mom about it right away.

“I told my mom, ‘You’re always talking about how you want to buy us new clothes but don’t have the money for it.’”

Her mom called and made an appointment the next day. “It was just a really amazing experience for me,” Cheyenne said.

“I remember going to my first appointment … it was just a dream. There were clothes everywhere, and shoes, and bags of health stuff. I remember [the volunteer] being like, ‘You can pick ten items.’ I thought I was going in and picking one outfit. So I went in and picked out my ten items, and I was smiling the whole time. I was so happy to get newer clothes.”

“Being in a poor family,” she said, “we went to Goodwill. That was our back-to-school shopping.”

Cheyenne hadn’t experienced buying new clothes, so. one of the best things about Teens’ Closet was that she could get nice, new clothes without her parents breaking the bank.

Cheyenne is attending Northern Arizona University and plans to graduate in Spring 2023 with a degree in secondary choral education.

She called Teens’ Closet (and a couple of North Star’s other programs) “a huge blessing in my life.”

This is Beth Victory’s fifth year using Teens’ Closet. She said, “I love finding fun, pretty items that match my personality!” and added, “Teens’ Closet is a great help to students whose families need a little extra. It has been a great help to my family. You can even get a haircut if you need it.”

Beth is already on the path to success: she recently earned the title “Arizona Miss Amazing Teen Queen 2020.”

The original intent of Teens’ Closet was to provide new or like-new clothing to teens in financial need. Many of the teens haven’t shopped before, Krystal said, so we help them put together outfits and whole wardrobes (staff members keep track of what the teens choose during each trip so they can complement those items during subsequent visits).

The program quickly blossomed into more: now, they help teens research career paths, write resumes, practice interviewing, find job openings, and develop and reach goals (see Teens’ Closet: How to Get Involved, page XX for details on how to shop Teens’ Closet and how to help). Catholic Charities’ North Star Youth Partnership “adopted” Teens’ Closet in 2020.

“This is not just about clothes,” Krystal said. “It’s about building self-esteem,nd self-confidence and a bright future. We meet them where they are, help them with whatever they need.”

The effort is also about community. Kaileigh said, “If there’s a need, it’s amazing to see how people come together to meet it.”

One example: location. Krystal originally operated Teens’ Closet out of a converted walk-in closet in a building near Prescott High School. When it outgrew that space, a local property owner let Teens’ Closet use her rental property. When she had to sell the house, Krystal began to look for a new space.

Joe Howard, Superintendent of the Prescott Unified School District, stepped in and offered a space in a portable building at Taylor Hicks Elementary School. The Heights Church donated money for new carpet, Sheila Mengarelli donated money for clothing racks, and some friends put on a fresh coat of paint. Pam and Clark Braniff helped Krystal and her husband, Dan, move everything over and set up the space.

Krystal said, “My husband Dan has always been my biggest supporter.”

He’s helped move Teens’ Closet a few times and has done a little of everything else: hanging shelves, painting walls, putting up racks.

One day, Krystal bought up a bunch of shoes at Wal-Mart. She’d loaded them onto the conveyor belt and the man next to her in line teased her about buying up all the shoes. She explained that the shoes were for Teens’ Closet, and he pulled a wad of cash out of his pocket and handed it to her. He said he’d won the money during a poker game the night before, and their chance meeting at the cash register meant he was supposed to give her the winnings.

“Things like that happen a lot with Teens’ Closet,” she said.

Teens’ Closet Associate Margi Tays, a volunteer, said she loves seeing “how happy the kids are  when they walk out with something good.”

Although Krystal, Kaileigh, and the community are celebrating Teens’ Closet’s tenth anniversary, this story starts long before the founding of the organization. Krystal grew up as one of six kids. Her dad died when she was nine, and, she said, “I know what it feels like not to have adequate food, clothing, and healthcare.”

As a young girl, she learned a few important lessons: people judge you based on how you look and dress; one person can make a big impact on someone’s life (she still remembers her first grade teacher, who packed her a lunch every day and bought her a sweater and coat, and inspired her to become a teacher); it is possible to choose your path, to create a life you love.

As an adult, she’s done just that. She’s been married to Dan for 31 years and they have two adult children together (Kaileigh and Tanner). She worked as a health educator for North Star Youth Partnership from 2006-2020. In January 2020, Diane DeLong, North Star’s Senior Program Manager, had the idea to make Teens’ Closet one of North Star’s programs.

“Thanks to Diane,” Krystal said, “Teens’ closet is the best it has ever been.”

While the teens who come in are overwhelmingly grateful, sometimes they talk about how tough life is.

Krystal said, “I tell the kids, ‘I went through that, too. It stinks. But here’s what I did, and you can do it, too.”

And they do. One teen who still shops at Teens’ Closet has earned her cosmetology license. She comes in early for her shopping appointments and cleans the space, and always leaves a stack of haircut coupons for other teen shoppers.

“This is my purpose,” Krystal said. “To help others break that cycle. This is where I’m the happiest.”

Teens’ Closet: How to Get Involved

How to Shop

Teens’ Closet, a program of Catholic Charities’ North Star Youth Partnership, provides free, quality clothing to local teens ages 13-19 in financial need. Teens can also pick up hygiene bags, backpacks, jewelry, and other accessories.

Shopping is by private appointment only; call 928.379.1667 and leave a message. A parent or guardian must accompany all minors, and proof of financial need is required.

Teens’ Closet also provides assistance with resumé and interviewing techniques, consultation and assistance finding job openings, and assistance with goal-setting. Shoppers can also find information about a variety of community resources.

How to Help

Teens’ Closet is seeking monetary donations as well as VISA gift cards and gift cards to local retailers. Because Teens’ Closet is a Catholic Charities program, all donations are tax-deductible and are eligible for the Foster Care Charitable Tax Credit (check with your accountant). To donate online: www.catholiccharitiesaz.org/donate-to-nsyp.  Checks can also be made to Catholic Charities with NSYP – Teens’ Closet in the memo line.

Visit Amazon Smile to see a list of items Teens’ Closet needs: https://smile.amazon.com/hz/charitylist/ls/3JJ5SBPK0A1BZ/ref=smi_ext_lnk_lcl_cl

Also, Teens’ Closet is seeking volunteers. Email [email protected] for more information.