Smiddy’s Closet, a passion project long in the making, has become available to UVA Wise’s student body, according to the school’s official Facebook page.
According to Neva Bryan, UVA Wise’s Director of Career Discovery and Planning, Smiddy’s Closet is designed to provide professional clothing for any student in need of it. Multiple outfits may be obtained from the closet over a student’s time at UVA Wise, but this is generally limited to one outfit annually.
Any items taken from the closet are meant to permanently belong to the student, according to Bryan. Bryan said the clothing may be obtained for any variety of professional occasions, ranging from job interviews to conferences to research presentations.
Reverend Beth Tipton — one of the driving forces behind Smiddy’s Closet’s creation — said it was created for students, but also originally conceived of by students. Believing that such an operation was needed by the campus community, a body of students under Tipton’s supervision went to work trying to secure the necessary funds to begin such a project. Obtaining a grant from the United Methodist Board of Higher Education, they began the journey to making their dream a reality.
According to Tipton, the realization of that dream was expected to be witnessed by some of the visionaries responsible for it, as they planned to attend Wednesday’s ceremony. For scheduled speaker David Goodman, a recent alumnus of UVA Wise, the day marked the culmination of a cause he sought to flesh out since his days as a student.
But the process has been a slow one. Tipton estimates that two and a half years have elapsed since work on the project commenced. “We spent about a year just talking and researching,” Bryan said.
Now, at long last, the project has begun to receive media attention. According to Bryan, she appeared on WJHL Daytime Tri-Cities on Feb. 9 to discuss the closet. The response generated by that airtime has been encouraging, as individuals from as far as Kingsport and Greeneville have offered to make donations to Smiddy’s Closet.
The closet has had no shortage of assistance, according to Bryan. The summer months of 2019 played host to a clothing drive. During autumn, the UVA Wise Staff Senate made a contribution of their own by donating the proceeds of a hot dog fundraiser.
However, those are not the only donations that have been made Bryan said. Sykes and the Pro-Art Association have left their own marks on the closet, gifting clothes. Clothes have also been donated by UVA Wise faculty members, and even by local individuals not affiliated with the college.
According to Bryan, donations to the closet may be made in a variety of ways. An appointment may be scheduled by contacting either Tipton or Bryan, or clothes may be taken to the Wesley Center between 9 a.m. and 8 p.m. on Thursdays.
The process for acquiring an outfit is simple. Students hoping to take advantage of the service simply need to contact Neva Bryan or Beth Tipton and schedule an appointment. Any visit to Smiddy’s Closet, Bryan said, will be kept anonymous.
Although the service has great potential, Bryan fears that students will be “hesitant to accept help, maybe because they might be embarrassed.” Both Bryan and Tipton are eager to erase any such feelings.
“There is no shame. We’re not here to judge. We’re just here to help students succeed,” Tipton said.
The project has personal connotations for Bryan, who recalled being in need of similar resources during her time as a student.
“I understand the students’ perspective, because I was a first-generation, very poor college student. And I remember having to borrow my roommates’ clothes to go to an event that I was invited to, because I didn’t have anything to wear,” she said. “I’ve been there.”
Tipton has witnessed the impact a service like Smiddy’s Closet can have on a student’s life. “Several years ago, a student came… a first-time freshman, first-generation student, and she had two pairs of pants, a few shirts, one pair of shoes, and … very limited underclothing. And … the difference that was made in her life by providing professional attire … was the hope. It was visible to me in the hope that she had for a viable, successful future. …And she is successful now,” Tipton said.
“The right clothing can make the right impression, and the wrong clothing can break your opportunity,” Tipton said. “Smiddy’s Closet provides the means to make the right impression.”