The Coeur Closet at Couer d’Alene High School has been a labor of love for school staff as well as the parent and community volunteers who have made it such a success. An amazing “feel-good” story, the Coeur Closet started out several years ago with concerned parents helping an economically disadvantaged student obtain appropriate clothes to be able to attend his prom, and has grown into a program that provides both clothes and confidence for students at the school.
Located in the basement of Coeur d’Alene High School, and originally called the Viking Vault, the Coeur Closet is run by two incredible volunteers, Paula Lyon and Polly Melendez, with assistance from school counselor Rick Jones, and innumerable school staff, parents and community partners. Both Lyon and Melendez have found this project to be a beneficial and cathartic way to honor the memories of their own children, both former students at the school, who tragically passed away in recent years.
Supplies from the Coeur Closet are available to all students, but have really made a difference in the lives of those who are most vulnerable—homeless families, students living in foster care or with grandparents, and those with special needs. “There is such a concerning gap between the haves and the have-nots, and we felt like we needed to be change agents and help those who are less fortunate,” says Lyon. “We had one young man come to us wearing his father’s shoes, which were at least four sizes too big. Unfortunately, we see far too many kids like that—wearing clothes that don’t fit, threadbare hand-me-downs, or clothes that aren’t warm enough in the winter—just heartbreaking stories.”
In addition to practical and humanitarian benefits, the project also teaches life skills to students at the high school. “We really have been able to use this as an educational experience; helping kids learn how to dress professionally for job and college interviews,” says Melendez. “The transformation is incredible. We can see their confidence and self-esteem grow right before our eyes when these young people are provided with good looking, well-fitting dress clothes.” The Coeur Closet aims to be as discreet as possible, and has been largely focused on getting young men prepared for significant school and community events that lend themselves to more formal attire. Recently, they have added more clothes for girls, and students can also find backpacks, school supplies and other items in the closet.
A caring and watchful school staff is one of the keys to the program’s success. Jones and the other counselors, along with classroom teachers and support personnel, are always keeping an eye out for students who are in need and would benefit from the Coeur Closet. “We are so fortunate to have this resource, so we do our very best to make sure that students who need a little extra help know that it is available,” says Jones. “It is heartwarming to see the difference it can make in their lives.”
Donations and contributions to the Coeur Closet come from a multitude of sources, and 90% of the clothes are new. Lyon, Melendez and the district’s “angel shopper” are constantly on the lookout for clearance items at area stores. They have also forged relationships with businesses who support the project. “Kohl’s has been one of our biggest benefactors, donating clothes and cash as well as giving us early notices when dress clothes are going on sale,” says Lyon. “The Mr. Tux store has also donated a large number of items, and Hayden Country Cleaners has cleaned and delivered hundreds of pieces at no cost.”
From humble beginnings with a small group of concerned people helping one student get proper clothes for his senior prom, the Coeur Closet has grown into a sizeable school and community project that helps dozens of students each year. “The work that Paula, Polly and everyone associated with the Coeur Closet does is just amazing,” says Jones. “They are an inspiration to us all, and we can’t even begin to measure the impact they have had on our students and our school.”