Friday, September 19, 2014

Activate Project

Flag #10: Florida

Name: “Style Saves”

Location: Miami, Florida

Text by Regina Arriola

Nearly 73% of children in Miami-Dade County live at or below the poverty line, with over 3,300 of those and their families currently homeless. Didn’t someone once say that you must be the change you wish to see in the world?

While on my honeymoon to Southeast Asia, my husband and I traveled to places like Chiang Rai, Thailand and Siem Reap, Cambodia, where I was exposed to a level of poverty that represented a world previously unknown to me. I knew that extreme destitution existed in the world, but coming face-to-face with the sad truth that most of the children I met would never know a different reality, seemed cruel. This firsthand understanding sparked an overwhelming eagerness in me to play an active role in the future of children without the opportunities of those who are more fortunate –And I didn’t have to look very far.

Upon returning to Miami, my hometown, I connected with Rachael Russell, a FORD fashion stylist and the Founder of Style Saves. At age 23, Russell started the organization after going back-to-school shopping with her younger siblings. It occurred to her that not every child is afforded the opportunity to begin the school year with stylish new clothes, and that just didn’t sit well with her. Soon after, Style Saves was born.

During our initial meeting, I knew that Rachael was someone I wanted to spend time with—she was equal parts driven, ambitious and knowledgeable about the non-profit world, and I wanted to learn everything she knew. Since then, and together with a well-rounded Board of Directors, we were successful at dressing over 700 students with brand-new, back-to-school outfits and uniforms.

The fourth annual Style Saves Back-to-School in Style initiative took place at the Adrienne Arsht Center for Performing Arts on August 16 and 17, and welcomed families from local organizations including Big Brothers Big Sisters, Lotus House, Mentor Network, Irie Foundation and The Guatemalan-Maya Center. Aside from shopping, the day included interactive activities like eye exams by Visionworks, manicures, pedicures, haircuts and yoga lessons for kids.

Style Saves has doubled its reach with each installment; a challenging feat accomplished through generous in-kind donations, fundraising efforts and the selfless dedication of each unpaid volunteer.  In the spirit of the aforementioned words declared by Gandhi, the presence of change first comes from within.

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