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Ballantyne teen, Ardrey Kell help homeless

High school donates 328 coats to Crisis Assistance Ministry

By Reid Creager

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It gave her a warm feeling, and will do the same for many others.

Ballantyne-area teenager Rachel Spurling recently delivered 328 coats to Crisis Assistance Ministry for her high school’s Ardrey Kell Warm Knights Coat Drive. The community service project gave her a greater appreciation of her comfortable lifestyle and the work that goes into charitable efforts.

“I have the things I need,” said the 16-year-old junior. “It always feels good to help others who have less.”

And she knows there are increasingly more with less. According to recent reports in the Observer:

• Family homelessness increased 36 percent in 2010 – and another 21 percent in 2011.

• During the 2011-12 school year, 4,922 students enrolled in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools were identified by CMS as homeless. Within CMS, there was an elementary school where one out of every four students was homeless.

• A Child’s Place – a Charlotte-based nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the academic performance of homeless students in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools – served 2,228 homeless children in 2011, more than triple the number five years earlier.

Although homelessness totals for 2012 haven’t been released, Rachel knows the problem isn’t going away. She’s already thinking about leading another coat drive next year and what it will take to make it even more successful. The 328 coats during this year’s drive were collected in only 17 days – Jan. 2-18.

“You start to realize how much work goes into something like that,” she said.

For her, she said that meant researching where the coats would be donated and making contacts; getting out word through posters and flyers; creating incentives for students and teachers; gathering the coats at the school; and delivering them to Crisis Assistance Ministry, a Mecklenburg nonprofit that fights homelessness and helps Charlotte’s working poor.

She worked closely with Tanise Avington, volunteer manager for the ministry, and got help from some students, teachers, her mom and sister.

“She just took it and ran with it,” said Rachel’s mother, Joanne Spurling. “She thought up incentives for students: If they brought in a coat on a certain day, they would get to leave early. Teachers got to wear jeans if they brought in a coat.

“The word didn’t get out as much as she would have liked so that we could have gotten more coats. But hopefully next year it will be even bigger.”

With the recent unseasonably cold weather, Rachel is pleased that the coats will be available immediately.

“Once they’re on a hanger, they go to the store, where people who need them can come and get them,” she said. “And I was happy that they were very nice coats; there weren’t any old or dirty coats at all.”

Rachel has volunteered at an animal shelter and done other community service projects, but her mother said this one has meant the most to her.

“You don’t do it for the reward ... but it’s nice that people are appreciating it,” Joanne Spurling said. “I hope she sees that so she can continue on this path.”

Reid Creager is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Reid? Email him at rcreags@voyager.net.
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