One of Juno & Jove’s favorite charities is Taylor’s Closet, founded by 21-year-old Lindsay Giambattista, which helps build self-esteem in girls who have been abused. We recently caught up with Lindsay G. and asked her all about the charity and what it means to be a finalist in the Seventeen Magazine Pretty Amazing Contest.
How did it all start?
In December of 2005, a 14-year-old girl from Fort Lauderdale had an idea to give some less fortunate girls a little hope and a little love by allowing them to shop for clothes – cool ones, the latest fashions – for free!
I prayed. And I asked some of my friends to do the same. Before I knew it, I had more than 50 bags of new and like-new clothing stacked up, floor-to-ceiling, in my room. That year, we put together a make-shift “store” aboard a yacht in the local Christmas boat parade where 20 or so young girls in foster care could come in and feel something special. That effort blossomed into an actual store, which now serves girls all over South Florida as a model for affiliated efforts around the country.
Tell us about Taylor’s Closet.
What happens in Taylor’s Closet is remarkable. Girls who have been abused, injured or who are just basically suffering from a lifetime of hopelessness come into our store and find out that someone cares – that all these beautiful new, designer clothes are there for them – completely free.
And then something happens to them. Walls start to drop. Attitudes become softer. Conversations take place. Love happens. Hope happens. You almost have to see it to believe the transformation.
Taylor’s Closet provides love and hope to girls in need through a shopping experience. Each girl can come to our store once a month and leaves with three pieces of brand new designer clothing, valued at $150. But even more she leaves feeling loved and valued.
Tell us more about the growth of Taylor’s Closet since its inception.
Taylor’s Closet opened its first store in 2006. It was a 500 square foot store that was housed with gently used clothing. In 2008, a 4200 square foot store was donated to us and after, a $250,000 renovation. The renovation project became a community project here in South Florida. Everything was donated. Today we are able to see 80 girls a month in our shopping programs and we will mentor 30 girls through our Awaken Mentoring Program.
Tell us about you.
Well, I’m a 21-year-old student who also runs a non-profit! I absolutely love fashion; it’s what makes me tick. But, I also have a love for anything related to art and design. Painting, restoring furniture, photography. Anyone who knows me will tell you, I’m a big hugger and I absolutely love food – it’s my favorite way to connect with people. I could bond with the Mona Lisa if we shared a meal together.
Tell us about the weekly workshops you offer the girls.
“At-risk” can mean all kinds of things. It can mean your parents have thrown you out of the house to live on the streets. It could mean you don’t have parents at all. It could mean addictive behaviors. It often means abuse – emotional, physical & sexual. It could mean foster care or pre-foster care. It could mean you’ve lost your home and family to tragedy in another country. It could mean you just don’t have anywhere else to turn.
To us the words “at risk” mean something a little different. To us those words are a call to reach into these girls’ lives and extend – in a genuine way – a hand to demonstrate the love of God. We started doing something that had been in our hearts since Taylor’s Closet was first born. We asked a handful of girls if they would like to “do family” with us. For a period of time, we would commit ourselves to teaching and nurturing – not out of books – but out of our lives.
We teach, we learn. We get to see deeper into their lives as they see deeper into ours. We get to call out the hidden dreams in each of them. And then we move to activate them. That’s why we call it Awaken.
- Art Classes
- Sewing Classes
- Cooking Classes
- Life Skills Training
What are some of Taylor’s Closet’s biggest achievements?
Tell us about your employees/volunteers?
We currently have six paid staff members and four staff members that volunteer their time. We are all very close and often hang out outside of work. We eat lunch everyday together as a staff. We also take a weekend trip out of town each quarter to bond and get away.
In addition we have over 200 volunteer hours a month. We could never see all the girls we see if it weren’t for our volunteers. We love them and appreciate them so much.
How do you choose the girls?
We work with about 30 local agencies here in South Florida who specialize in working with teenage girls. Each girl must be referred by an agency to shop at Taylor’s Closet. Each girl has an appointment to shop with us and is assigned a specific stylist (volunteer) to shop with her.
What’s one of the most memorable experiences you’ve had with a client?
Wow, there are so many stories I could tell. I think my most favorite story is when a sweet girl shopped in our store whose mother had just passed in the Haiti earthquake, leaving her in foster care. It was about two weeks after the quake, and her spirit was so fragile. I knew she felt so much loss and pain. I started shopping with her and just making sure she felt so loved. She slowly started getting more comfortable with me, but there was still no smile or even emotion. I hung up all her clothing in her dressing room, and decided it was time for her to try on her pieces. She came out of the dressing room with a beautiful pink sundress on and walked over to the full length mirror. I said she looked absolutely beautiful. On her face erupted an ear-to-ear smile. She started to twirl around in her dress, looking at herself in the mirror. You could just tell for one moment she felt absolutely no pain – she felt gorgeous. She was actually the first girl who ever shopped in our new store. I still see her in the store every once and a while. I’ll never forget her.
Where do you see Taylor’s Closet in five years?
I have so many ideas for reaching more girls through Taylor’s Closet in the next five years, but my vision is to build upon and perfect our mentoring program like we have with our shopping. We sort of become sisters, moms, and grandmothers to them. In five years, I hope to have a separate location outfitted specifically for the mentoring program where we can open our doors to mentor girls every day – hosting top notch classes for them while giving them a safe place filled with incredible design and loving people. A sort of high-end, but still super-adorable community center. (I don’t like that term, but it gets the point across).
How did you hear about the Seventeen Magazine contest?
I decided to do a Google search for educational scholarships for young entrepreneurs, and the Seventeen Magazine Pretty Amazing Contest popped up! I decided it was at least worth the try! I was so honored to hear they loved what I do enough to make me a finalist!
Tell us more about the contest and your competitors.
Clothing pictured was donated by Juno & Jove
The contest is an incredible opportunity for a ‘real girl’ to be featured on the cover of Seventeen Magazine and win a 20K scholarship! Seventeen chose 5 girls out of around 25K applicants! We actually all just got back from our trip to New York City hosted by the magazine which was filled with photo shoots, interviews, and makeovers! I am newly a red-head.
My competitors are absolutely amazing. In a sense, I think we all felt like we weren’t actually competitors – more like new friends with a lot in common. In my mind, I look at these girls as inspiring role models! The girls in the running with me are doing amazing things. I honestly can’t wait to see who wins!
Help her win a well-deserved $20,000 scholarship by clicking and casting your vote by August 1, 2012! We’re cheering for you, Lindsay G.!