Megan Freeland faced a dilemma that confronts many teens: She needed to buy new clothes for job interviews, but without a job, she didn’t have enough money to buy the clothes. In a bind, she turned to Social Advocates for Youth, the Santa Rosa nonprofit where the 18-year-old has been receiving support.

Through a unique partnership with Goodwill of the Redwood Empire, SAY is able to provide homeless and low-income teens with vouchers to buy clothes. On Wednesday, armed with a stack of clothing vouchers, Freeland shopped for smart sweaters and business slacks at a Santa Rosa Goodwill store.

“I’m going to start looking for a job, and this gave me the opportunity to get clothes for interviews,” Freeland said as she tried on clothes. “I’ve always found clothes from here that fit my style.”

Teens, even homeless and low- income ones, love to shop for clothes and wear the latest fashion trends. Sometimes, SAY, which gives out used clothes to teens at its youth shelter, receives donated clothing and household goods that are not very age-appropriate.

Instead of giving a teen that dress that belonged to some well-intentioned donor’s grandmother, SAY’s partnership with Goodwill of the Redwood Empire allows teens receiving aid to buy the clothes that they want, which the organization says will help them fit in with their peers.

Clothing and other items that are left at donation boxes at SAY’s office and teen shelter are taken to Goodwill and exchanged for the vouchers, which teens can spend at Goodwill’s retail locations.

“Teenagers, especially homeless youth in this county, want cool clothes that fit their style,” said Caitlin Childs, communication manager for SAY. “Letting them shop for their own clothes empowers them to do that. They can buy what they want so that they can blend in and not feel like an outcast.”

The program started about a month ago, and already it has given dozens of teens vouchers. The SAY shelter serves about 120 teens, Childs said. Some of SAY’s youth have found jobs working at Goodwill stores.

Goodwill’s bins are located at SAY’s office at 3440 Airway Drive and at the Dr. Coffee House Teen Shelter at 1243 Ripley St. Donations placed in these bins specially marked with the SAY logo will be converted to Goodwill vouchers.

Mark Ihde, president and CEO of Goodwill of the Redwood Empire, said the program benefits both organizations.

“It works well for their nonprofit and it works well for us,” he said. “It teaches the youth life lessons. They get an amount to spend and they get to decide how to spend it.”

You can reach Staff Writer Matt Brown at 521-5206 or matt.brown@pressdemocrat.com.

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