Greater Hartford Youth Create Innovative Solutions to COVID-19 Challenges
Tara’s Closet, a program housed at Jewish Family Services of Greater Hartford (JFS), provides free clothing to people in need in the region, but like many programs throughout the state – the pandemic changed everything! Tara’s Closet needed to find inventive ways to continue to serve clients as the state, and nation, adjusted to a new normal. In response, Tara’s Closet partnered with Jewish Teen Learning Connection (JTConnect) and created an Innovation Challenge, calling on teens in grades 8-12 to reimagine how Tara’s Closet could better serve the community in the time of coronavirus.
“Our dilemma became an opportunity to engage with JTConnect, a partner organization, and utilize the energy and creativity of the youth to help us brainstorm,” said Katie Hanley, chief executive officer of JFS. “We are proud to announce that Sophie Kudler, 16, of West Hartford, is the winner of the Innovation Challenge. The Tara’s Closet Committee decided that of all submissions, Sophie’s ideas were well thought out, creatively presented and demonstrated an understanding and appreciation for the mission.”
Tara’s Closet offers free clothing to those in the community who need it while working to break the down barriers around mental health issues in the region. Tara’s Closet is named after founder Barbara Roth’s daughter, Tara Savin, who lost her battle with bi-polar disorder at the age of 38. Tara’s Closet Founders and Committee members work tirelessly to break the stigma of mental illness through regular work in the closet while also hosting large-scale mental health awareness events that draw huge audiences to hear stories about people who have overcome mental illness.
Prior to the pandemic, Tara’s Closet clients would pick up to 10 clothing items from a closet housed at JFS’s West Hartford office. Since March, the JFS office has been closed to the public for the safety of staff and clients due to the ongoing pandemic, leaving Tara’s Closet clients unable to shop through the clothing themselves. Clothing is still available to clients in need by contacting the JFS office at 860-236-1927.
Sophie Kudler’s submission offered an original twist –putting Tara’s Closet on wheels. She reasoned that by shifting to a mobile operation, Tara’s Closet could practice social distancing and make certain proper COVID-19 regulations are followed, such as serving one client as a time and meeting in an open-air location. According to Kudler, it would be easier for Tara’s Closet to get to clients than it would be for clients to visit the office. A mobile Tara’s Closet would allow clients to get their desired clothing in a safe, simple, and helpful way. While there are currently no plans for packing up Tara’s Closet’s current operations into a van, Ms. Kudler’s idea is one that could move from the theoretical into practice. The ideas generated from the Innovation Challenge offer inspiration for how the program can evolve beyond the traditional closet.
In a virtual presentation of the award, Barbara Roth spoke from the heart, telling the teenagers in attendance, “You are not alone. If you or your friends are struggling, feeling alone, or feeling sad, you should not be ashamed. We are here for you.” Tara’s Closet, in addition to providing clothing to those in need, raises fund made available through JFS clinical services to cover costs associated with therapy that clients couldn’t otherwise afford.
JTConnect engages teens from across the Greater Hartford community in fun, interactive and challenging educational and social experiences grounded in Jewish learning and values. Working with students in grades eight to 12 from all levels of Jewish observance, affiliation, and knowledge, the organization inspires teens to create their own Jewish identities and become passionate leaders and active participants in both their community and the world.
“[We] strive to instill in our teens the realization that they have incredible potential to make the world around them a better place,” said Eric Maurer, executive director of JTConnect. “Especially now, when things seem dark and uncertain, at the core of our mission is the knowledge that today’s teens will be at the forefront of repairing our world. Time and time again, we are inspired with how teens in our community are rising to the occasion with creativity and passion to engage in acts of social justice. We are thankful for JFS and Tara’s Closet collaboration in giving our teens an opportunity to exercise their innovative thinking and make a difference in our community.”
To learn more about Jewish Family Services and Tara’s Closet, visit jfshartford.org. If you or someone you know needs mental health services or clothing, please call the JFS office at 860-236-1927.