Derek King, a Mohonasen High School senior, readily admits he is not the school’s best student; he doesn’t always make it to class on time or at all, he said.
But when he is not at school, he feels the nagging guilt of not being in a room special to him and many of his classmates who also struggle with keeping up with schoolwork or handling the pressure and anxiety of class.
He misses being in the Anchor Room, which, a doorway away from the school’s alternative education room, provides students with access to free clothes, food, toiletries and other everyday necessities.
And for the students like King, who have both utilized the Anchor Room and man its daily stocking, clerking and sales needs, the Anchor Room serves as a safe place during a hectic school day.
“It brings me back: ‘Oh, maybe I need to be in school,’ ” he said last week as he and some classmates showed off the room.
“Anybody is allowed to come in here,” King said. “I may not be the ‘normal’ of the school. However, that doesn’t matter when you are here. We are all here for a purpose; we are all here to make this school and community a better place.”
The Anchor Room looks like a cross between a thrift store and well-stocked garage sale all squeezed into a classroom. It has two entrances: one from the hallway and one directly off Faith Perry’s alternative education classroom.
The Anchor Room wouldn’t exist at all if wasn’t for a single outfit that Perry decided to wear to school a few years ago — and wear the next day and the next and the next day until the end of the school year. When she saw a student teased for wearing the same clothes multiple days in a row, she took a stand and set a clear precedent: Everyone was accepted in her class no matter what they wore. And if they needed some extra clothes, she would find a way to get them some.
Perry reached out to Gary Spadaro, director of social enterprise at Schenectady and a former Mohonasen school board member, to see about getting some clothes for a student. From there sprouted what would eventually take over the wall’s of Perry’s room, then a closet and, starting this fall, an entire classroom.
“I still wear the same clothes every day,” Perry said. (She actually wears the same outfit every day, picking a new one at the start of each school year and acquiring a wardrobe of three of the same items.) “We started out so small, me getting a pair of jeans from Gary, and now we have this entire room and can get a student anything.”
In the fall, five Mohonasen girls got dresses from the Anchor Room for the semi-formal dance. But they didn’t have the necessary undergarments for the dress. So Perry went on the hunt. She contacted Spadaro at City Mission, and reached out to other teachers at the school, with a list of things she still needed.
By the time of the dance, the girls had everything they needed.
“We provide everything from clothing to shoes to prom dresses to anything they need, because we are resourceful,” Perry said. “If there is a specific need, we send it out to 30 or so teachers, and we’ll have it within 15 minutes.”
The students in Perry’s class — when they have finished their schoolwork — unload donations and organize the room. They handwrite thank you notes to anyone who donates to the cause.
Perry’s teaching assistant Angie Lasher helps organize the whole effort and said she has turned down other job offers so she can remain part of the Anchor Room.
The Anchor Room team bags clothes and other items and delivers them to other schools in the district. Perry keeps in touch with nurses at the elementary and middle schools in case a student needs something in particular. They also deliver clothes twice a month to City Mission, where they also get clothes to take back to the Anchor Room.
“It makes me realize that a lot of people are not as fortunate,” King said. “But to give them that one thing they need makes them fortunate, and for me to help them with that makes me fortunate.”
The students play to their strengths, serving as fashion advisers or marketers. When a student comes in to try clothes, they close off the Anchor Room and set it up as a personal changing room. Some students have no other choice but to use the Anchor Room. To others, the Anchor Room may just be a trendy vintage thrift store. Rain boots and name-brand jackets adorn the store walls. Packed away in cabinets, students can find gift packs to round out their holiday shopping. Perry never asks students to defend their use of the room.
“We reinforce that they look nice, and they shouldn’t be ashamed that they need something,” said senior Kamren Martin.
So far this fall, Perry has focused on trying to increase the room’s stock of toiletries and personal hygiene products. They ran fundraisers in the fall and received donations from a bevy of local business, most with kids in Mohonasen — Adams Heating and Cooling, Daviero Power Washing, Skips Seal Coating, Towne Decorators and Mallozzi’s.
The elementary school PTO also made a contribution, and Kourtney DiGesare, of Cup Runneth Over Boutique, makes free alterations for dresses.
Spadaro, from City Mission, said the Anchor Room could easily serve as a model for other districts or other communities.
“Our hope is we can mirror this in other communities; it’s what we are all about,” Spadaro said. “We want people to know when they donate to us it is going into their communities.”
But at the heart of Anchor Room is Perry’s mission to help all students feel welcome and accepted in their school, and the students who help carry out that mission each day — for themselves and for others.
“It makes me want to come to school, because I realize I have people that care, and I want to graduate,” senior MacKenzie Carr said. “[The Anchor Room] got me to be where I want to be and where I need to be.”
Reach Gazette reporter Zachary Matson at 395-3120, [email protected] or @zacharydmatson on Twitter.