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Jul. 21—Keene High School Principal Chris Taylor and his wife, Keene Elementary School pre-kindergarten teacher Ashley Taylor, had for several years discussed ways they hoped to help and give back to their community once they retired.
Thanks to Keene ISD Superintendent Ricky Stephens and the district, however, the Taylor's hopes came to fruition sooner rather than later."
"This looks fantastic!" KISD Summit Leadership Academy Principal Julie McKintosh said upon entering Charge it Forward for the first time. "It looks amazing."
Attractively laid out and organized as it is, Charge it Forward exudes the vibe of a visit to a retail clothing store rather than a thrift shop, with the main difference being that the merchandise is free.
McKintosh joined other KISD officials and Keene city staff members Wednesday morning for a sneak peek at the soon-to-open clothes closet.
Others commented that Charge it Forward looks and feels like a boutique.
"That's the idea," Chris Taylor said. "We didn't want it to feel like going to Goodwill or something. We wanted it nice, inviting and a fun place to go."
Charge it Forward occupies an outbuilding on the KISD Administrative campus.
"These buildings were originally used for our alternative school," Stephens said. "But that campus has since been moved so we have these buildings still here and available."
Julie Taylor praised Stephens for supporting her and her husband's vision.
"My husband and I have both been thinking about this for a long time," Julie Taylor said. "We're both in our fifth year at KISD and through that time we've noticed that there's a big need for clothing for kids and adults.
"We mentioned the idea to Mr. Stephens last spring and he immediately jumped on board with the idea and suggested this place for us to open shop."
The Taylor's spent the next month or so setting up shop.
Charge it Forward's display area occupies two rooms of the outbuilding, one for boys, the second for girls. Boxes of clothing and other items yet to be sorted occupy a storage area.
"They got in here and fixed this place up really nice," Stephens said. "Working through the hot part of summer and much of that time before the air conditioner was working."
Children are the focus but all are welcome.
"Babies to adults and everyone in between," Julie Taylor said.
The goal is to help as many Keene and area residents in need as possible, Stephens added.
"So if mom comes in with her kids to find clothes for them and sees something she needs too, she's welcome to it. We're just wanting this to be something to help the community out."
The need is great.
"We're 82 percent socioeconomically disadvantaged so there's definitely a big need here," Stephens said.
Julie Taylor, scanning the abundantly stocked display areas, said she and her husband feel thankful and blessed.
"I was worried whether we would have enough clothing quantity wise before we opened," Julie Taylor said. "We haven't really put word out to the public yet that we're looking for donations. But thanks to donations from [KISD staff] and family members and friends we got enough to get us started."
More than expected, Chris Taylor said.
"We started out planning to have everything in this one room," Chris Taylor said. "That's why we've painted in this room, put pictures up, put up that mirror that someone donated from an old, antique Cleburne house. But we realized pretty quick that we had enough to use both rooms."
In addition to clothing for boys and girls and adults — much of which either is or looks new — several pieces of jewelry and other items have also been donated. Keene ISD Charger garb takes up one corner of the room.
"Those are going to be really popular with the kids we're thinking," Julie Taylor said.
But more is needed.
"As we get things in we divide them by size to give us a picture of what we have and what we still need," Julie Taylor said. "Mainly we're low on clothing and sizes for middle school boys right now and shoes are something we can also always use."
"We can always use more KISD team gear because that's going to be popular. Also, we're hoping to get dress shirts and suits. That way if the dads or older brothers are trying to get jobs we can have those available for them. And we're also thinking ahead to the need for prom dresses."
Chris Taylor added that donations of diapers, personal hygiene products and other necessities are welcome as well.
"We also accept monetary donations," Julie Taylor said. "For one thing, socks and undergarments are always a big need and we want to buy those new and try as best we can to always have those on hand."
With KISD classes resuming on Aug. 4, the plan the plan is to open Charge it Forward soon.
"We're thinking July 31 and Aug. 1 to let kids and their parents come in to get clothes and things before the school year starts back up," Julie Taylor said.
Charge it Forward will otherwise be by appointment.
"People can visit our Facebook page, Charge it Forward, which will also have contact numbers, and we'll set up a time for them to come out here. And we'll have other open day events probably one before it starts to get cold again and then one before it starts to get hot so people can get the clothes they need before the seasons change.
"People wanting to donate can also visit our Facebook page, or call the schools or administrative office.
"We're really, at this point, wanting to get word out about what we're doing and that we need donations and hoping to see this take off."
Julie Taylor said she also had business cards printed up.
"Because I thought it would be a good idea to go around to garage and yard sales and leave them a card," Julie Taylor said. "That way, if they have any clothing left over afterward maybe they'll consider donating it and, because of the card, they'll know where it's going and that it's going to a good cause."
Access to Charge it Forward shouldn't be an issue in most cases, Chris Taylor added. Besides the Taylors, the school nurses and each KISD principal have keys to the building.
Stephens, during Wednesday morning's ribbon cutting ceremony for the facility, thanked the Taylors and called upon the community to help out.
"Over the past three months I've had conversations with Chris and Ashley about their vision of opening a free clothing closet," Stephens said. "And, once we cut the ribbon, I want everyone take a tour and see all the hard work they've put into making this a reality. I love the name the Taylors came up with, Charge it Forward, which plays off the pay it forward concept of helping others who are less fortunate or in more need.
"And personally, I want to say how proud I am of the Taylors and all they've done here to create a nice place for kids and families to come and get some really nice clothes."
With that, Stephens urged all to clean out their wardrobes and donate any clothing they no longer need or want.
"This is one of the cool things about our community and KISD," Stephens said. "Is that our community does this through food banks and other opportunities to help neighbors in need and that this community really loves one another and that Charge it Forward is going to be another great way KISD can give back."