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Fashion Forward: Kihei Charter junior collects jeans for Women Helping Women

Neighbors: Profiles of our community

Kihei Charter School junior Erin Smith is collecting jeans – skinny, bootcut, high-waisted and everything in between – for Women Helping Women. She hopes to round up 200 pairs of jeans by the end of January. LESLIE MACKENZIE SMITH photo

You know those jeans you haven’t worn in years? The pair you relegated to the back of your closet?

Erin Smith will gladly take them off your hands.

Last month, the 16-year-old Kihei Charter School junior launched a jeans drive for Women Helping Women, a nonprofit organization that provides crisis intervention and support services to victims of domestic violence on Maui and Lanai.

At the start of their junior year, students at Kihei Charter School design an independent semester-long project that is meaningful and aligns with their interests. As Smith mulled over ideas for her project, she realized it presented an opportunity to make a tangible impact.

“I have a passion for helping people,” she said. “I wanted to do something that would make a difference.”

That’s when Smith set her sights on Women Helping Women. She’d heard of the organization and had been to its resale store, ReVive Boutique, in the Old Kahului Shopping Center.

Women Helping Women accepts donated items — everything from apparel to household goods — throughout the year. Gently used (and in some cases, brand new) clothing items are brought to the women staying at the nonprofit’s 24-hour emergency shelter, many of whom have fled violent situations with only the clothes on their backs. They pick out what they need and the balance is sent to ReVive to be sold at bargain prices; all of the proceeds go directly to Women Helping Women.

With that in mind, Smith decided to organize a clothing drive — but narrowed it down to one item in particular. And why did she choose jeans? Well, for one thing, denim is an enduring wardrobe staple. Jeans can also be pretty pricey. And, she said, “Everyone feels good in them.”

In September, Smith met with Women Helping Women Deputy Director Pili Kaninau, who enthusiastically agreed to serve as her project mentor.

“I am extremely happy to be working with Erin on her high school project,” Kaninau said. “It is because of students like Erin, bringing domestic violence awareness to the forefront of our education system, that our future looks hopeful.”

Since then, Smith has learned all about Women Helping Women and says she plans to continue supporting the nonprofit long after she receives a final grade for her project.

So far, Smith has rounded up nearly 50 pairs of women’s jeans and will continue collecting them through the end of January. With two months to go, she hopes to reach or exceed her goal of 200 pairs. There are two drop-off bins: One is stationed in the Kihei Charter School cafeteria, the other in front of the Wailea Realty Corp. office at The Shops at Wailea, where her mom, Leslie, works.

It’s Smith’s first community service project, and she says it definitely won’t be the last.

“It’s amazing what can happen when you put your idea out there,” she said. “Helping others is a really awesome feeling.”

Do you have some denim you’d like to offload? Stop by the collection site in front of the Wailea Realty Corp. office at The Shops at Wailea or email Smith at erinmaui808@gmail.com to arrange a drop-off or pickup. Donations should be gently used, wearable and laundered; all women’s sizes and styles are needed.

And as the holidays approach, Kaninau said, “We often see an increase of women and children seeking safety and our shelter gets full. We have an ongoing need for bedding, such as sheets — twin and full size — pillows and blankets. Other needs include travel-sized toiletries like shampoo, conditioner, bath wash and deodorant. Women Helping Women is so grateful for the people in our community and the care they take for our survivors.”

To learn more about Women Helping Women or to inquire about donor or volunteer opportunities, visit womenhelpingwomenmaui.com, email info@whwmaui.net or call the main office at 242-6600. If you or someone you know needs help, call the 24-hour crisis hotline at 579-9581. For more information about ReVive Boutique, visit www.womenhelpingwomenmaui.com/revive-boutique or call 495-0067.

* Sarah Ruppenthal is a Maui-based writer. Do you have an interesting neighbor? Tell us about them at missruppenthal@gmail.com. Neighbors and “The State of Aloha,” written by Ben Lowenthal, alternate Fridays.