Today, I will end my blogging about inspirational young people with a story about an 18-year old from Raleigh, North Carolina who is making a difference in the lives of so many people in her home state through an organization she created called “Teens 2 Teens.”
Eighteen-year old Krissi Fajgenbaum, a recent graduate from Raleigh’s Ravenscroft High School, says her life was changed after watching Diane Sawyer’s documentary two years ago which revealed the despair and daily struggles of families in Appalachia. The powerful documentary affected many people as it portrayed the plight of many of these poor families who go without the very basic necessities of life, such as food, clothing, and shelter.
Krissi said, “At first, when I watched it, I was just so sad to see that happening to people, and I was completely shocked. I was absolutely devastated after seeing that. I couldn’t believe there was so much poverty within five hours of where I live in Raleigh.”
Krissi’s reaction to this documentary did not stop there; she spent time researching the region’s poorest areas and even contacted the governor’s office. Through her research, she discovered that Robbinsville High School, in the far western part of the state, is the poorest school in North Carolina.
Krissi then met with Robbinsville High School’s guidance counselor. She was told that many of the students who attend this school in Graham County can’t afford to play sports, go on class trips, or engage in so many of the experiences that most teenagers take for granted.
Then Krissi got busy, creating a program called “Teens 2 Teens.” Reaching out to her high school friends, she asked them to donate items for these young people who lived in the poorest area of their state. The response was tremendous, and her house literally filled up with gently-used clothing.
All of the donated clothing was taken by Krissi and her mother by truck 350 miles to a storage area that had been transformed by students at the school into a “boutique” which was aptly named Krissi’s Kloset.
Krissi explained that many of the students she met with on her visit to Robbinsville said that they had no clothing to wear when they go for college and job interviews. So she designed her boutique “to be a fun experience” for the teens who would pick out clothing there, taking care to make it feel like a true shopping excursion.
“The kids there are smart and they want to be successful, and I think this is just something we can give them to help them be even more successful. Students come in, and they’re so excited,” Krissi said. “Some of them have never been in a store; they don’t know what size they wear.”
She went on to say, “People are so appreciative. It started out as a small idea, something I could do. The main thing I’m proud of is that I carried it out and it got so big.”
And so it was that the first “boutique” was not enough for Krissi. Through a partnership with Communities in Schools of North Carolina, in July of 2010, she opened a second Krissi’s Kloset in Bryson City, which is located in North Carolina’s Appalachian region. Each boutique is stocked with more than 30,000 items which have been donated by friends, neighbors, and strangers.
Krissi’s mother, Sylvia said, “Krissi has always been a child who has thought of others before herself.”
And Michael, her father said, “I’m just so proud of her to actually find something to do and actually follow through with it to make it happen.”
Not only have Krissi’s efforts helped so many young people; it has also earned her attention from the media. She was named an AmeriCAN on ABC’s “Good Morning America” and “Person of the Week” on ABC-11. She was even featured in the June edition of People Magazine.
A well-rounded person, Krissi devotes at least 10 hours a week to her cause, maintains her grade point average, and participates in field hockey, swimming, and track. “It was hard to watch her work so hard over the last two years,” Sylvia said, and even with all of her other responsibilities, “she always took the most difficult classes she could take.”
Krissi’s website lists the other Teens 2 Teens chapters which other inspired youth following in Krissi’s footsteps have set up in their area of the country, and she encourages other youth to take on the challenge, as well.
Sylvia is hopeful that the organization will continue to grow and that more young people will answer the call to get involved. “What’s good about it is that she’s leading by example,” Sylvia said. “Other teenagers are interested in helping teenagers who are less fortunate because they see her doing it.”
Krissi received the Robertson Scholarship, and is currently a freshman biomedical engineering major at UNC Chapel Hill, but she is still the driving force behind Teens 2 Teens.
Looking back at her accomplishments, Krissi said, “It’s taken a lot of time and hard work but it’s been completely worth it.”
Krissi’s website makes the following statement: “All teenagers have the same wants and needs no matter who they are or where they come from. Teens want to feel good about themselves. They want to feel self confident and they want to fit in. By offering teens in need gently used clothing, they can feel good about themselves at school and feel more confident and comfortable when they go on class trips and college visits.”
And it is this basic desire to provide those who are less fortunate with a sense of confidence and self-assurance that has taken Krissi on this amazing journey. My hope is that some of you who read about Krissi will want to help her continue to do the good work she has started. Maybe you can help fill her “Klosets” or maybe you would like to open a new chapter in your neck of the woods.
Join in and make a difference in the lives of these young people, just like Krissi has.