Innovation for Social Change
At Impact Prep at Chestnut—a middle school in Springfield’s North End—having access to clean clothes isn’t a given. Many students struggle to keep their uniforms clean every week, lacking either the time, money, or supervision to do laundry regularly. When they can’t meet the school’s dress code, they often skip class, rather than risk being bullied for their appearance.
For Alisha Cameron ’19, a social work major from Springfield, this barrier to learning was unacceptable. So, along with her colleagues at Impact Prep, she created the Impact Cares Program, an in-house laundry service for students. Every Tuesday and Thursday, middle schoolers can drop off their clothes at the beginning of the day, and pick them up after their final class. No questions asked.
The Elms/Springfield Technical Community College (STCC) social work program offered several benefits to Alisha. “Not only was it the more affordable route, but it helped me get engaged with my community,” she said. “It’s accelerated, but still in a time frame I can manage.”
“It’s no secret that the society we live in is very materialistic — the haves and the have nots,” said Alisha, who works at Impact Prep as the school’s family and engagement coordinator. “Our students see that on social media and reality TV, the idea that what you have is who you are. I want them to see that that doesn’t define them.”
For Impact Prep’s chronically absent students, the laundry program is a game changer.
“Their absences have completely turned around — a complete 180,” Alisha said. “We knew we had to put in a structure for prevention, rather than just covering the issue with a Band-Aid.”
“Actually Reinventing the Wheel”
Impact Cares sparked a culture shift at the school. From January to March 2019, over 100 loads of laundry were processed. Because the service is anonymous — students simply drop their clothes off in a backpack — they can focus more on learning and less on whether or not their uniform will draw unwanted attention.
The local community is behind the program, too. The washer, dryer, all of the detergent, fabric softener, and dryer sheets are donated, Alisha said.
The Impact Cares Program aims to tackle absenteeism head-on. “Our students are feeling a certain way,” Alisha explained. “We have to acknowledge what they’re feeling. If a shirt is making them feel insecure, let’s get them a new shirt.”
As a student in the Elms/Springfield Technical Community College (STCC) off-campus program for social work, Alisha appreciated the emphasis on empathetic communication and applied research. These skills helped her learn how to engage with her community in a productive, culturally-sensitive way, she said. They also gave rise to innovative thinking.
“So many kids come from different backgrounds, and have different learning styles, struggles, and traumas,” she said. “You can’t just have one model of teaching, one model of serving.”
“Too often we see things and have a mentality of, ‘if it’s not broken, don’t fix it,’” she added. “We don’t realize that we can actually reinvent the wheel.”