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2011 Soroptimist Violet Richardson Award Finalist:
Allyson Ahlstrom

“Imagine what it must be like,” says Allyson Ahlstrom, 16, of Santa Rosa, California. “You’re a high school girl who lives in foster care or a group home, you have little in your life and really can’t afford the “in” clothes like everyone else, and because of that, you are bullied.”

Allyson simply couldn’t imagine such a scenario for girls—so she changed it.

She opened up her own teen clothing store, Threads for Teens, www.threadsforteens.com in Windsor, California, in August 2010, featuring brands like Tommy Hilfiger, Stussy, Hot Topic and other designer labels. But with one twist: the clothes are free to under-privileged teen girls ages 13 to 17.

Because of her volunteer spirit, SI/Santa Rosa chose her as the recipient of its Soroptimist Violet Richardson Award, which recognizes girls, ages 14 to 17, who work to better their communities and the world. The club awarded her $250, and as the Founder Region recipient, Allyson received another $250 for herself and $250 for Threads for Teens. As a region finalist, SIA awarded Allyson $1,000 for herself and $1,000 for Threads for Teens. As the 2011 federation finalist, SIA awarded Threads for Teens an additional $2,500, bringing the overall award to more than $5,000.

“The boutique is set up to look exactly like a real store, so that the girls coming in feel like they are actually out shopping,” she says. “This benefits them by giving them self-confidence and makes them feel like they are worth more and someone actually cares about them. This is exactly why I started Threads for Teens, to boost self-esteem, give girls hope for the future and give them clothes they will love and cherish.”

The girls visiting the shop are referred by social workers, she says, and come by appointment only so Allyson can make sure she has items in each girl’s size. On average, each girl receives two tops, two bottoms, a dress (formal or casual), one pair of shoes, sunglasses, a necklace, purse, bracelet and variety of other small accessories.

The idea for the Thread for Teens project began when Allyson was 14 and had just finished reading the book “Generation Change” by Zach Hunter, a Christmas present from her mother, Amy. After she finished it, Allyson decided to “do something,” compiling a huge list of different national clothing companies and local clothing stores. After sending out her first emails, she began to receive positive responses.

To date, Threads for Teens has collected $50,000 worth of brand new clothing and accessories. All donations were eligible for a tax deduction because they fell under the 501(c)(3) status of Ursuline High School, where she had been a freshman and sophomore. That charitable status has been huge for the success of Threads for Teens, she says, because without it, many companies would not have donated. Now a junior at Cardinal Newman High school, she says her project is in the process of acquiring its own 501(c)(3) status.

Allyson
“So far, 50 girls have visited the shop and seeing their faces has been incredible,” Allyson says. “I can see how grateful they all are. Recently, a girl came in who was so cute and she loved everything and had a blast. I kept hearing her say, ‘This is like a dream!’ and ‘I can’t believe this is happening to me!’ This is what I love about doing this.”

Allyson's goals for the future of Threads for Teens are wide in scope, which doesn’t surprise her parents. Her father, Wayne, says, “She’s motivated and firmly believes in what she’s doing. It’s organizations like Soroptimist  … those who have gone down the road before her … who have transferred energy from one generation to another. She wouldn’t be where she is without them.”

In a temporary location, Threads for Teens has a beautiful storefront, Allyson says, but it is not decorated. Her personal goal is to make the shop look even more like a boutique, including painting the walls, adding new furniture and other small touches.

“Right now I’m in the process of fundraising for those improvements,” she says. “After that, my goal is to expand and have even more locations. I’m hoping all those goals are reached by my senior year. And I’ve already met a goal of securing donations of plus-sized clothing.”

Other plans are equally ambitious—to sponsor seminars and panels on human trafficking, and drug and alcohol abuse, and offer workshops and advice for teens, from entering college to cooking—all under the auspices of her nonprofit.

No matter where Threads for Teens goes from here, Allyson is sure about one thing: That one person can do absolutely anything if they set their mind to it. Describing herself as “shocked and honored” upon winning the Violet Richardson Award, she says, “I love doing what I do. I don’t do it for recognition in the slightest. This is about these girls and I feel that I have received something larger than what they receive. It has been as much a blessing for me as it is for them.”

Perhaps her mission statement on her website says it best:
“If everyone does a little no one has to do a lot. If we can brighten the day and lives of a few girls, we change it for all the disadvantaged girls by spreading the word … we are the future leaders of the world. If we can give each other confidence, nothing can stop us. No mountain is too high, no forests are too thick, no oceans too vast from giving girls everywhere the opportunity to succeed.”

 

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