Local teens have charity work all wrapped up

By: Tiffany Esshaki, Elizabeth Scussel | Birmingham - Bloomfield Eagle | Published March 18, 2015


BLOOMFIELD HILLS/BIRMINGHAM/PONTIAC — A group of local teens are teaming up to make a difference, and they’re giving it everything they’ve got — including the shirts off their backs.

Local drive
Recently, Trends for Teens celebrated its grand opening inside the International Technological Academy — a public school in Pontiac that serves 440 students in grades six-12.

“The goal-setting aspect of Trends for Teens is what really sets us apart from other charities,” said Trends for Teens cofounder Eliana Margherio, 16, a student at Marian High School. “It is a great learning experience for both the students we are helping, as well as ourselves.”

Trends for Teens is a nonprofit organization that provides new and slightly used clothing for high school students in low-income communities.

The store — which was founded by Margherio and 14-year-old Emily Prokop — also aims to help teens learn goal setting and follow-through.

To earn Trends Cash, which can be used to purchase clothing and accessories at the store, ITA students must set and achieve goals in five areas: academics, acts of kindness, athletics, attendance and active participation.

Goals are created based on each individual student’s strengths and opportunities for growth. A counselor or advisor at the school guides the student to ensure the goals are appropriate and achievable. Once the goal is reached, a shopping day is scheduled for the student.

“The opportunity to be able to encourage kids my own age to set and accomplish goals for themselves is amazing and highly rewarding,” said Margherio.

The store’s Advisory Board is currently made up of eight students from the ITA and eight students from Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook-Kingswood, Marian, Brother Rice and Birmingham Seaholm.

“(The process) is really fun and inspiring,” said Jhane Anderson, a student at the ITA and a member of the project’s advisory board.

The relationships built with the collaboration of students couldn’t be stronger, explained Margherio’s mother, Jennifer Margherio, who has been offering assistance on the project.

“Everyone has been awesome — to come into this school and see it all work. All the kids were eager to help, and it worked out better than expected to bridge the gap between communities,” said Jennifer Margherio. “There’s always a way to help. You just have to find a way to do it.”

The team hopes that the store at the ITA is just the first step in the journey. If all goes well, they would like to open a number of stores in southeast Michigan.

Global reach
In 2010, Nancy Smith was a nurse living in Bloomfield Township. But she wanted her job to take her elsewhere — all the way to Haiti to help with humanitarian efforts following the earthquake.

She and her church group from First United Methodist Church arrived in the city of Jérémie, where many people fled from Port-au-Prince after the disaster struck. While the team assessed what the city’s population needed — food, medicine, hygiene products — they decided to go to even more remote locations in the region to help people there. Smith said that high up in the mountains of Jérémie, the villagers needed the very basics for survival, and even water and clothing were scarce.

“When we started to go up into the mountains where the people were very poor and couldn’t even go down to even attempt to see a physician, we realized these people don’t hardly have any clothes,” said Smith, who now lives in Metamora. “We thought, ‘Oh for heaven’s sake, we can sew some little a-line sundresses for these girls.’”

And so they did. But the group began to realize that when it came to the older girls and even the boys, sewing clothes wasn’t the most practical option. Smith decided it would be best to collect donations of clothing, and her friend’s daughter, Erica Schwegman, took over the effort.

“I was talking about how I needed to get a bunch of skirts, and she said, ‘Done,’” said Smith. “Since then she’s been running with this and making fliers and all kinds of stuff.”

The 16-year-old Birmingham resident is a junior this year at Notre Dame Prep. Despite having much of her time occupied with volleyball practice, ACT preparation and college planning, Schwegman reached out to everyone she could imagine — including her peer ministry program and her travel volleyball club — to collect skirts, boys basketball shorts and other needed items. Since last summer, she’s collected about 350 skirts and around 200 basketball shorts for the cause.

What’s more, she’s been making bracelets by hand to match each and every donated skirt. She just wants the girls to have a little something extra special.

“I want them to feel that friendship and connection, that we’re not just helping them but that we honestly care about them,” said Schwegman of the bracelets, which each carry a heart charm. “Though we may be far apart, we’re the same, and we share one heart.”

Next month, Smith will deliver the fruits of Schwegman’s labor to the village during her next mission trip. This time next year, Schwegman said, she hopes to be able to join her.

“I’m really blessed, and I wanted to help the people that aren’t always that fortunate,” she said.

Trends for Teens is in need of clothing and monetary donations. For more information, email donations@trends4teens.org.

To learn more about the Jérémie Haiti Project, call First United Methodist Church at (248) 646-1200.