Teens for Jeans campaign extends CHS, LHS challenge

Teens for Jeans campaign extends CHS, LHS challenge

CUMBERLAND – She’s become the face of the Teens for Jeans campaign in Cumberland, and this year, her final year at Cumberland High School, senior Kayleigh LaPre hopes to collect more pairs of jeans for the homeless than ever before.

Since starting the donation drive through Dosomething.org as a 15-year-old sophomore, LaPre has seen her jean pickup list grow from just the public schools in town, Depault Ace Hardware and Dance Creations Inc. in Woonsocket, to six businesses in the area, the Lincoln Public Schools and both the Blackstone Valley Prep Mayoral Academy high school and middle school. Dosomething.org is an organization that supports social change campaigns and has almost 5 million members internationally.

“Here we are, three years later,” LaPre says, as she snips away at damaged jeans she’s gathered, which she turns into braided dog toys and donates to animal shelters in Cumberland and Woonsocket.

It’s the first year CHS will compete with Lincoln High School to collect the most pairs of jeans. The winner, she said, will be crowned the “Queen of Teens for Jeans 2016.” The drive began this month and will end Wednesday, Feb. 24.

This year, LaPre has her own car – one she jokes was chosen because of its large trunk space to fit the bags of clothing she collects. In the first years of Teens for Jeans, she said, “my mom used to be Robin to my Batman,” driving LaPre around to collect the jeans. Now she picks them up on her own.

She does this while fitting in time for honors classes, running the CHS Helping Hands club that she started, working in student government and running the debate club, which has made it to the state championships the past four years, she said. With her busy schedule, LaPre said she travels around her pickup route every two weeks.

LaPre volunteers at the Northern Rhode Island Food Pantry and the Providence Rescue Mission – places where she said she’s learned a lot about humanity and the power of compassion. The CHS Helping Hands Club runs a number of donation drives that benefit the Providence Rescue Mission.

LaPre recalled a cold November day when she and other CHS Helping Hands members and Jessica Delaney, a CHS science teacher, were distributing gloves, hats, socks and hand warmers at the Providence Rescue Mission shelter.

A shivering man had walked inside, LaPre said, saw the pile labeled “women’s,” became discouraged and said, “another person only donating to women.”

The CHS senior overheard him, then walked alongside him over to the men’s pile. LaPre said she’s learned that many donations at the shelter and most homeless shelters are geared toward women and children. It’s moments like this, she said, where seeing genuine appreciation reminds her just how easy it is to take some time to help others in the community.

“You can’t help but hate the stereotypes that surround the homeless and want to help them more,” she said.

When she walks into either the food pantry or homeless shelter, she said, “you see that they’re people that are really working to get their lives back or who fell down the wrong path, but should they forever be penalized for something they did in their past?”

LaPre is still waiting to hear back from the colleges she has applied to, but her first letter of acceptance came in the mail recently from Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y. She said she wants to join community service groups at whatever college she winds up at, and is interested in pre-med or biomedical engineering. This year, she hopes to volunteer in a developing country – but that all depends on funding and expenses.

The CHS senior said full-length jeans of any size, color and brand are accepted, and while the competitive side in her wants to win the LHS versus CHS challenge, LaPre said, “I want the project to be meaningful. I want to enjoy it while it lasts.”

She’s also hopeful that another student will take on the responsibility of running the Teens for Jeans initiative. LaPre laughed and said over the years, she’s learned that jeans don’t pile well, and that they will form an “avalanche” in her garage.

“I’ve also learned about myself. I’ve learned that I can be a leader,” she said. As of last week, LaPre had collected approximately 3,000 pairs of jeans in total over the past three school years. Once next month’s deadline for the collection has passed, LaPre will document how many pairs she has and submit those numbers to dosomething.org, where she’ll learn which local shelters are most in need.

Jeans can be donated at the following locations:

• All Cumberland Public Schools

• Blackstone Valley Prep Mayoral Academy middle school and high school

• Lincoln High School, 135 Old River Road

• Cumberland Public Library, 1464 Diamond Hill Road

• Depault Ace Hardware, 2000 Mendon Road

• Boys and Girls Club of Cumberland-Lincoln, 1 James McKee Way

• Crossfit Lifeblood, 1 Ann and Hope Way

• Dance Creations, 59 Circle St., Woonsocket

• Matrix Physical Therapy, 176 Eddie Dowling Highway, Smithfield

For more information, follow Teens for Jeans Cumberland on Facebook, @Teens4JeansCHS on Twitter or email teensforjeanscumberland@gmail.com .