Haley Draeger stands in a room surrounded by racks of clothes. It’s a shopping day and her arms sag under the weight of her selections. She smiles broadly as she looks at each one, with a look only a 16-year-old on a spree can give.
“This is so cute!” she fairly squeals, to no one in particular.
Seeing a teenager in a boutique isn’t particularly unusual but here at Kid’s Korner, Draeger stands out. After all, it isn’t every day you see a high school sophomore get this excited about putting clothes onto a rack instead of snatching them off of it.
“I’ve had so many smiles and hugs. I’ve had people cry,” she said, straightening out some baby dresses. “It’s crazy how much little things will help. A lot of these babies are preemies and parents don’t know how long they’re going to last. So that one little outfit could be the thing that they can get a picture in.”
Kid’s Korner is a twice-monthly children’s closet housed at the Ronald McDonald House in Little Rock. Draeger, a sophomore at Mount St. Mary Academy in Little Rock, dreamed up the concept to help families of critically ill children who are staying at the house while the family member receives treatment at one of the city’s hospitals.
“The community Ronald McDonald House serves is so diverse. There’s not one kind of people,” Draeger said. “Some have a lot of money and can go buy straight from Target and then there’s some that can’t and they will come to us and be like, ‘Can I have this and this?’ I’m like, ‘Yes, please take it! Please take whatever you need.’
“We had one girl come in and she’d been dropped off. She was a sibling and literally had the clothes on her back. It was after a holiday weekend, so her mom got a whole selection of clothes.”
Draeger has been volunteering for as long as she can remember, through March for Life and in various capacities at her parish, Immaculate Conception Church in North Little Rock. In grade school, she completed a bronze level Girl Scout project — a cat tower for the local Humane Society — but when it came time for her silver level project, she hit a snag.
“Seventh grade, I was doing (a project) with another girl and it fell through,” she said. “(The proposal) had to be submitted by September of my ninth-grade year. So, I went to Ronald McDonald House.”
Draeger had volunteered at the house in the past and after a meeting with staff to discuss needs, she spent her eighth-grade spring break fleshing out project ideas. Erica Carlock, the organization’s volunteer coordinator, was impressed from the get-go.
“She clearly had a passion and a heart for our mission,” Carlock said. “We liked all of her ideas so much, so we narrowed them down to two and let her pick. She ultimately was the one that chose Kid’s Korner. This has really been her baby from day one.”
Draeger approached a local consignment store about donating clothing and was rewarded with an avalanche of inventory.
“We reached out to Cindy Brantley of Duck Duck Goose and we were like, ‘What do you think about this?’ She was like, ‘That’s amazing!’” Draeger said. “The last time we went, they gave us over 1,000 outfits and they come just as they are from the sale; they have the tag on them and the hanger.”
“We typically look for activity clothes. Like, we don’t need the dresses and the suits; it’s all the T-shirts, sweatpants, all that stuff. A couple sundresses during the summer. There are a lot of preemies, so we’ve gotten a ton of that, preemie all the way up to size 12 or 14.”
Twice a month, the clothes go on “sale,” meaning families can come in and pick out whatever they want. Kid’s Korner opened for business in summer 2018 and to date has distributed nearly 1,500 outfits to more than 240 families and counting. The operation has become so large, Draeger splits retail time with another volunteer, yet still works 10 to 30 hours or more, depending on the month.
“It’s a lot of work to put it all in,” she said. “I do (the Kid’s Korner) once a month and I do all the back work. I have another lady, and she’s brought in people to help her. We get volunteers sometimes when we go for the events. There’s at least two of us working and restocking.”
“Haley is very thoughtful,” Carlock said. “At her young age, she sees we have a house full of families that need clothes and that they’re coming with their children and they don’t have options. They’re here anywhere from one night to 200 days and in those 200 days the seasons change and your kids grow. Where are you going to go get new clothes? (The closet is) incredibly thoughtful and intuitive on her part.”
Draeger landed the Girl Scouts Silver Award for her endeavor and was also named one of four state finalists for The Prudential Spirit of Community Award, a nationwide program honoring young volunteers. She said she wants to see Kid’s Korner continue even as she’s working out another idea for her Girl Scouts gold level project, a NICU kit for families to be handed out through the new Ronald McDonald Room at UAMS.
“I love serving others,” she said of her faith-informed motivation. “(Families) will thank me and I’m like, this is what I’m supposed to do. I’ve even looked at jobs now that serve people because I just love doing it. Why not? It helps you grow as a person and it helps you be nicer to others.”
To learn how you can help, contact Ronald McDonald House Charities of Central Arkansas at (501) 374-1956 or email .
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