Rachel’s Closet coming to Dryden school


DRYDEN — The ultimate goal of helping teens deal with the basic needs of life has mushroomed beyond what he first originally thought.

Russ Underwood, a member of the St. John’s Episcopal Church of Dryden, spent hours thinking about how he and the church he attends could help youth in the area.

Eventually, Outreach Teen Relief was born.

“I spent a great deal of time thinking about this,” Underwood said with a smile. “I wanted to have a chance to make a difference in the lives of some underprivileged youth and it has grown bigger with time.”

Russ Underwood

He went on to add, “Acting swiftly and without the delay of waiting for committee decisions allows this program to work effectively, to help teens who are compromised and have no recourse. Peer pressure, daily appearance scrutiny, fear of losing social stature, and bullying have negative effects that can last a lifetime. The challenge for us is to be there in time of need. From this we hope to become a sustainable and viable part of our community, acting with care for one another.”

The 77-year-old Underwood said the program is designed to be discrete, working with school counselors at Dryden and most recently, in Almont. The OTR has also assisted a few students in the Imlay City area.

“My church, St. John’s in Dryden, started our effort when we learned of a teen who came to school in a warm-up hoodie during a winter snow storm. The next day, the teen had a new winter coat, with the presentation done in the privacy of their high school counselor’s office without broadcasting the event or their name.”

He shared a second instance where, “the next month, another teen’s parents’ house burned down, completely. Everything was lost. We wasted no time in jumping into action, and the teen was presented with a $100 gift card the very next school day. Again, done in the privacy of their counselor’s office.”

Underwood, of Dryden Twp., says those taking part in the program are in the process of putting details together that help the effort move forward and produce results.

“As more details are added over time, you may find a need to refine the program’s goal, but it is important to have clear priorities,” Underwood pointed out.

“A teenager is in school nine months out of the year. Six of those nine months are during cold weather when the need for cold weather clothing is strongest. The other outreach opportunities are social. Though these social occasions are also important to teens and provide additional opportunities for more outreach support, nothing compares to the health and physical welfare of that teen who is struggling to stay warm.”

The mission-minded Underwood said the group has been able to help a family who’s children were involved in athletics but couldn’t afford to buy tickets to watch them play games.

With the generosity of the OTR giving each parent a sports admission pass, the family was able to support their children.

Special occasions, such as graduation and formal dances are additional opportunities for the group to help. St. John’s OTR sponsors a boy and a girl for senior prom and homecoming.

“We give them both gift cards for tux & shoe rental and gown purchase with shoes,” Underwood noted. He said a local hair salon got involved when hearing about the generosity and donated chair time for a haircut for the boy and a cut & style for the girl, giving them both a look they would love.

While a large part of the group’s giving is with hats, coats and mittens for the colder months, Underwood said he is excited about something new coming to Dryden schools this fall.

“We have been working with some folks from the Almont schools and it looks like we are going to be able to start a Rachel’s Closet program. The nationwide program was created following the Columbine tragedy.

“The plan is to have a little store where teens can go and purchase small items they may need,” Underwood explained. “It could be school supplies, personal items. Whatever we are able to get for donations.”

The visionary said the key to the success of the program is donations from church members and the community.

“We gladly and thankfully accept cash donations, or if someone has coats, hats or mittens, we are so thankful for any help.”

The outreach has stretched all the way to Surprise, Arizona, where a group of people get together and knit hats, scarves and mittens and eventually donate the items to the Outreach Teen Relief program.

For more information about the program or to make a donation, you can email the church at stjohnschurchdryden@gmail.com or check out their website www.stjohnschurchdryden.org.