Hundreds of at-risk and homeless LGBTQ youth and young adults’ lives have been changed at the “I Have a Dream” boutique since its opening last spring, and the program has grown more than its founders anticipated.
The “I Have a Dream” boutique is a clothing bank facilitated by Rebel & Divine United Church of Christ that focuses on providing appropriate clothing for Phoenix’s community members ages 14-25 who identify as LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans*, queer and questioning). Since opening in April in the First Congregational United Church of Christ on McDowell Road and Second Street, the boutique has become a safe place for those who do not identify with the gender they were assigned at birth. Customers shop for clothing and find out what fits and what styles they like.
“They aren’t comfortable going to the mall,” said Pastor Jeffrey Dirrim, Rebel & Divine’s openly-gay executive director and founding minister. Most stores separate clothing by gender, but at the boutique, all the clothing is split by size — and only size.
Many young shoppers at the boutique are homeless. The clothing they receive at the “I Have a Dream” boutique is usually the clothing they will wear for the next week, Dirrim said.
“The system has failed these people,” said Vern Harner, an Arizona State University graduate social work student and volunteer for Rebel and Divine. “It’s really heartbreaking to see they are trying to get help and they don’t get any.”
Dirrim said the first time one young customer came to the boutique, he spent an entire hour picking out one outfit and seemed to really enjoy shopping freely. Dirrim said after coming out of the dressing room, “he was like a different person.”
“It’s rare to see in the homeless, to see the joy in their eyes,” Dirrim said. “We built his self-esteem and showed him that he matters.”
Now that customer is a regular.
“I take his clothes home and wash them,” Dirrim said. “He has favorites now, and he’s never even had favorites.”
This customer is not the only one whose life has been changed. “Someone starts crying every week,” Dirrim said.
After finding an outfit they like and feel comfortable in, Dirrim said, many customers in the boutique express that they feel pretty or handsome for the first time.
Since its opening, the “I Have a Dream” boutique has experienced some growing pains. The staff, donations and the consistent following grew surprisingly quickly, and the boutique was left with one problem: not enough space.
“We’re at the point that we need more space already, which is amazing,” said Sydney Harrison, former youth manager for the boutique. “So many more Rebel & Divine youth are volunteering and shopping.”
Harrison and Harner are just two of many volunteers within Rebel and Divine. Dirrim said most volunteers identify with or are somehow attached to the LGBTQ community, but they have seen volunteers from all walks of life.
“There is so much heart involved in it,” Dirrim said. Volunteers not only help with inventory and planning, but are also very excited to help the customers and plan outfits they will love.
Despite a steady following and major growth, the boutique still needs certain clothing items. Dirrim said they are always looking for more donations of bras, particularly larger sizes, underwear, body binders and Chuck Taylor sneakers.
Moving forward, Rebel & Divine plans to build a database to track the inventory and customers, Dirrim said. They hope to partner with gay-straight alliance groups around the Valley for more support and awareness of their mission.
Rebel and Divine are looking to grow their infrastructure to expand the clothing bank. Additionally, they also hope to merge the group’s food bank and toiletry bank — which are held during church programming — and the clothing bank into one location.
The boutique is open on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Contact boutique coordinator Kyra Cook for more information about volunteering at the “I Have A Dream” boutique, as well as donating, by emailing them at kyra@rebeldivineUCC.com.
Contact the reporter at Sloane.McGowan@asu.edu