Raid a diva’s closet to boost self-esteem

Mentoring program helps girls dress for success

Raiding a DIVA’s Closet (www.projectdivas.com) is an excellent example of communal self-empowerment, benefitting the public at large and an imperiled group in specific — girls and young women who much more often are the targets of sexist exploitation than they are recipients of a serious helping hand. Founders Keeya Allen and Neda Kellogg are directing a grassroots initiative that, along with providing an affordable clothing and accessories outlet, effects outreach to salvage and improve lives.

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Keeya Allen (l) and Neda Kellogg

Few things are as self-defeating as negative choices impressionable young females are encouraged to make. Accordingly, when they encounter positive alternatives, such as this extension of mentoring program Project DIVA, the result indeed is rewarding.

Keeya Allen, image director and image coach for Project Diva and creative image consultant/co-operator for the thrift shop Raiding a DIVA’s Closet, comments on why the enterprise was established. “It started as a need just to give back to North Minneapolis. It’s kind of like our Girl Scout cookies [where] girls can shop for themselves, shop for their friends, their moms.

“Also, if somebody in the community has a need, we can let them pay, say, five dollars for a sweater, or just bless them,” continues Allen. “And all the proceeds go back into the program.” So the priority is not on turning a buck, but on helping out whoever comes through the door, ages roughly 11 to 19. “Every young lady should be able to have what they need [to dress for] their school or work environment.” Or, for that matter, social environments as well.

Allen points out, “You should know how to dress yourself with self-esteem without being raunchy.” The premise being that if you dress respectably, others tend to more readily show you the respect you deserve instead of simply viewing and treating you like a sex object, a pitfall that regrettably awaits far too many African American females.

This resource is invaluable in countering what Allen sees as the disparity that leaves girls and women of the community standing on the social sidelines when an important piece of getting ahead in life is simply, as the truism notes, dressing for success. “A lot of them don’t know, and it’s not their fault because they haven’t been taught.” Fortunately, the umbrella entity Project DIVA does exactly that — for moms and daughters alike.

Project Founder and Executive Director Neda Kellogg, reached by email, states, “I have enjoyed creating a program…teaching [girls] to be well-rounded in six key focus areas: academia, career exploration, emotional behaviors, financial literacy, health/wellness and social etiquette. We benefit girls by encouraging them to critically think and set goals as they envision who they are becoming in life. This ultimately is setting them up to move beyond historically unstable lifestyles.”

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Angeli, an 8th grader, works at Raiding a DIVA’s Closet on weekends to assist in building her résumé as a fashion stylist and blogger.

The program is thorough, down to the basics. “We provide healthy meals by way of the girl’s raw food coach, Caroline Carter, and Shyamala Ganesh of Fairview Hospital, [who] sends interns to explain the importance of what they are putting into their bodies.”

Kellogg adds, “Through the leadership team, coaches and parents we are showing our girls a consistent model of what commitment to self and networking looks like.” A visit to the website is an engaging, informative introduction to the endeavor. At the donations page, for instance, you’ll find the eyebrow-raising fact that it costs $13,000 to hold a girl in a Minnesota detention center while “the cost for a young lady to experience dignity, integrity [is] $2,000 per year.”

Also included is an events calendar that, through April of next year, lists engagements that those interested in celebrating and promoting the well-being of our fledgling females will want to note. For instance, November 22, Women’s Club Lunch & Learn Academic-Social Coaching; December 20, Finance Me! Financial Coaching; and January 24, Academic-Social Coaching.

You can see that prominent organizations like the Woman’s Club of Minneapolis and Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board partner with Project DIVA. Among the sponsors are TCF Bank, UCare, Venture North Bike Shop and C’est Chic Boutique.

Raiding a DIVA’s Closet accepts donations of business or sensibly casual clothing. It’ll be put to fine use.

Raiding a DIVA’s Closet is located at 1112 Lowry Ave North in Minneapolis; call 763-280-3482.

Dwight Hobbes welcomes reader responses to P.O. Box 50357, Mpls., 55403.