‘We’re here to serve:’ Working Wildcats unveil Clothing Closet at SCHS

By EMILY SPARACINO / Staff Writer

COLUMBIANA – The Working Wildcats at Shelby County High School unveiled their latest project to the community during an Oct. 1 ribbon cutting.

The Working Wildcats Clothing Closet is a place where students can find an outfit for a job interview, a change of clothes to meet the school dress code or formal wear for prom—to borrow or to keep, depending on their needs.

The Clothing Closet is the culmination of nearly eight years of work by Special Education teacher Soli Lilly, her students in the Working Wildcats program and other school staff to meet a physical need for students.

“It’s neat to see a vision come to life after all these years,” Lilly said, expressing gratitude to school administrators and staff members who have supported the project. “We’re here to serve and to serve others.”

Shelby County High School Special Education teacher Soli Lilly, center, is flanked by her students and other community leaders as she cuts the ribbon for the Working Wildcats Clothing Closet on Oct. 1. (Reporter Photo/Keith McCoy)

The Clothing Closet occupies what was previously a restroom.

The out-of-use restroom had been used as a makeshift storage space, and Lilly saw its potential to be turned into a closet-like space.

Alabama Power partnered with the Working Wildcats to revamp the room and install the hardware necessary for hanging clothes in an organized manner mirroring a retail store.

“They took the project on, and it came to life,” Lilly said. “It takes a village; it’s not just me.”

In addition to meeting a need for students, the non-profit Clothing Closet allows students with special needs who are in the Working Wildcats program to gain valuable skills they can implement at home and at their jobs after graduation.

Students are responsible for retrieving the key to the closet from designated SCHS staff members and unlocking and locking the Clothing Closet before and after use; processing and sorting clothing and shoe donations the program receives; keeping the clothes and shoes in the closet organized and catalogued as students borrow or take items; laundering borrowed clothes before they are returned to the closet; and manning the closet during use.

“Everybody needs retail experience, and everybody needs life skills,” Lilly said. “Our ultimate goal is for them to become productive members of society and be employable. We wanted to build independence and help others.”

On the day of the ribbon cutting, senior Matthew Wright was greeting and leading visitors from the front of the school to the Clothing Closet.

Senior Seth Kober said he has helped fold and hang up clothes in the Clothing Closet.

“It helps me a lot,” Kober said.

Kober said he has heard positive feedback from students who have benefited from the Clothing Closet.

“A couple people said they liked it,” Kober said. “They liked going in there and getting stuff.”

The Working Wildcats are in immediate need of hangers, including pant, tubular, velvet and wooden hangers for different types and sizes of garments.

Ongoing donations the Clothing Closet accepts include the following: T-shirts, blue jeans, socks, undershirts, tennis shoes, business attire, prom dresses, dress pants, dress socks, dress shirts (white), dress shoes (black), accessories, athletic wear, winter coats, new packaged undergarments, laundry soap or pods and hygiene products.

All items are needed for male and female students.

Donations can be dropped off at the SCHS office.

The program also incorporates items from the school’s unclaimed lost and found in the closet.

“Something you think is trash is somebody else’s treasure,” Lilly said.

For more information about the Working Wildcats Clothing Closet, email mlilly@shelbyed.org.

“We thoroughly enjoy what we get to do,” Lilly said. “We hope this Clothing Closet stays here forever. It’s amazing.”