U R Special exists to boost self-esteem of children

Unfortunately, for the "invisible poor" families living in Edmond, supplying new clothes for their children isn't always possible. That's where U R Special can help.
The U R Special back-to-school distribution was handled differently in 2020 (Photo provided)

Most kids really do like to receive new clothes for school and the holidays, even though they may not seem too excited when opening that gift of clothes on Christmas morning. Unfortunately, for the “invisible poor” families living in Edmond, supplying new clothes for their children isn’t always possible. That’s where U R Special can help.

In 1993, the founder of U R Special was visiting Africa and witnessed a group of young girls receiving new dresses. She was struck by how excited and happy these young girls were and decided to bring the concept back home to Edmond. This loving woman engaged the services of a few friends to sew new dresses for girls in need in Edmond. The first year, U R Special distributed new dresses to 60 girls. The program soon started serving boys as well and has since grown to serving over 1,300 children a year.

Dusty Sommerville, board vice president with U R Special, at the 2020 back-to-school distribution (Photo provided)

U R Special provides new clothes, shoes, socks, and underwear to at-risk children ages three to nine who live in Edmond or attend Edmond Public Schools. Dusty Somerville, board vice president explained, “It’s important to us that all the children receive new clothes that are known brands, such as Nike shoes. These children attend school with children who come from families that are much more financially secure and whose parents can afford the brand names. We want our kids to feel like they fit in, and providing them with new, brand-name shoes and clothes will help with that.”

Dusty became involved when his wife, Cindy, became a volunteer seamstress, sewing dresses for the girls. When the dress program manager retired, Cindy took over and soon after, Dusty joined the board of directors, alongside Cindy. They have both been active on the board for several years. Dusty is a busy, commercial airline pilot, and when asked why he continues to serve the organization, he said, “It’s the kids. When you see the smiles and how happy they are to receive nice clothes, you know that you’ve done something good. It’s such a boost to their self-esteem.” He loves seeing the looks on the boy’s faces when they try on their new Nike or Adidas shoes. 

U R Special is almost completely operated by a volunteer board. They employ a part-time director who is responsible for securing the clothing and shoes, much of which is purchased with donated funds. Several partner organizations provide funding as well as volunteers to help with the distribution of the clothing.

A volunteer helps a child pick a dress at one of the 2019 clothing distributions (Photo provided)

Three times a year, approximately 150 volunteers come together at the building in downtown Edmond to sort, organize, and greet children and their families. Typically, the parent fills out an information form about their child(ren) with details such as age, gender, sizes, color preferences, etc. The forms are then given to a volunteer on the day of the distribution, and the volunteers assist the children with “shopping” for their new clothes. Each child receives an entire set of new clothing, including socks, underwear, and shoes. The winter distribution usually includes a new coat along with hat and gloves. All the clothing and shoes are seasonally appropriate, and the August back-to-school distribution sometimes includes backpacks and school supplies.

This year, the pandemic required U R Special to handle the back-to-school distribution in a slightly different manner. Parents submitted the information forms prior to the distribution, and volunteers prepackaged the items for each child. Families drove to the location, and volunteers delivered the packages to their cars.

Because U R Special receives Block Grant funding from the City of Edmond, participating families must provide proof of income level as well as proof that the child attends Edmond Public Schools. To receive clothing, the family must certify that their household income levels are below HUD poverty guidelines.

When asked about future plans for the organization, Dusty said, “We will stay focused on what we do best.” To do that, the organization needs to expand it’s board, and they are actively seeking new board members willing to “roll up their sleeves.”

In addition to cash donations, they accept donations of new fabric, sewing notions, and supplies for the dresses, and people willing and able to sew the dresses. Volunteers to help with the distributions are also welcome.

“Distributions are great volunteer opportunities for high school and college students,” Dusty said. “It’s fun, rewarding, and fulfills some school’s requirements for volunteerism.”

The next distribution is scheduled for November 6 and 7, 2020.

For more information, to volunteer or donate, visit the website.

The U R Special back-to-school distribution was handled differently in 2020 (Photo provided)

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About Laura Gamble

Laura is President of Redbud Advisory Group, a consulting company that she founded in 2016. Redbud, whose tagline is, “First I listen”, provides a myriad of consulting and professional development services to non-profit and small business leaders. She is a certified life coach and holds certifications in non-profit management and DISC Behavioral Analysis.