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Covenant House volunteer turns a closet into a store for youth to get a new start on life

William Goodwin talks to Covenant House residents in the Cover up closet retail space

A once unorganized and disheveled space at Covenant House Michigan’s (CHM) main Detroit center is now a retail space full of suits, dresses and essentials CHM residents need to get a new start on life.

Covenant House closet creator William -center with volunteers Milton and James

Covenant House closet creator William -center with volunteers Milton and James

Covenant House Michigan is a sanctuary for young people who have nowhere to go. They have been abused and neglected, have slept on friends’ couches or in abandoned buildings. They have been forgotten by those who are supposed to care about them the most and they need help and understanding to succeed in life.

The resident retail space called “The COVer Up” does just that by providing the clothing and other essentials. It was created and designed by William Goodwin, a 40-something, unemployed volunteer. It started out with a three-week commitment that is now going on its third month.

In April, Goodwin was contacted by his aunt, Trisha Gray, who is a CHM counselor to see if he would help “do something” with a pretty large closet at the Covenant House. Having just lost his retail store manager job he said, “why not.” He had decided since he couldn’t find a job, he was going to take the summer off anyway. So Goodwin told her he was willing to help but would only come in and organize the space for about three months and then he would go about finding another job.

Covenant House closet is stocked full of all types of clothes for residents

Covenant House closet is stocked full of all types of clothes for residents

“I wanted to make this a place that was functional and could be an educational tool for these young people that come through Covenant House,” he said. “I wanted to help the kids with their futures somehow.”

Residents get to volunteer in operating “The COVer Up” store, learning about merchandising, responsibility and customer service. The skills the kids learn at “The COVer Up” can be used later in life, once they get back on their feet. With donations continually coming in from corporations and individuals, there is always more to do in the shop to keep it organized.

Gray explained that before his renovation whenever anyone went to the space to get something for a resident like pants or necessities, he or she couldn’t find it. Sometimes, staff would simply give up their search because it was such a mess.

“When I finally saw the closet, I wondered what I had gotten myself into,” says Goodwin. “There was literally four years’ worth of stuff in there and it was clear no one had ever done anything to organize what was in there.”

Having more than 30 years of experience in retail, William knew he could help but was challenged in the beginning with where to jump in and start. He wrote out a plan and got to work. As he started on the space and it began to take shape. Other staff and residents began to help. In a little under his designated three months, Goodwin was able to turn the mess into The COVer Up masterpiece.

The first order of business was taking everything out of the room, finding out what was there and then organizing it and making it look presentable.

Covenant House volunteer William Goodwin sorting donated clothes

Covenant House volunteer William Goodwin sorting donated clothes

The end product is an amazing transformation. To see it today, it’s hard to believe the 25 x 25 space was ever in disarray.

Now that the renovation is complete, Goodwin says he wants it to continue, even after he is able to (hopefully) get another job. He seems a little torn … loving what he is doing now but needing a paycheck at the same time. He consistently volunteered eight to ten hours, five days a week for the last three months, just to help CHM and the kids.

The COVer Up name was created with help from residents, staff and a viral Facebook campaign. The name was the consensus vote and has stuck – a favorite among all that helped with the moniker.

T.J. Maxx and other partners donate tons of items for residents to purchase through the CHM store. Recently, Men’s Warehouse donated more than 200 men’s and women’s business suits as part of its annual suit drive.

What started out as a three-week project to pass the time has turned into something much bigger and better for the teen residents of CHM.

Since their beginnings in 1997, nearly 55,000 youth have been helped by CHM.To learn more about Covenant House Michigan, support their work  or “The COVer Up” retail project,visit their website at CovenantHouseMI.com.

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