Allyson Ahlstrom, a slight, curly-haired incoming sophomore with a penchant for designer labels, thinks big.
The 15-year-old Ursuline student stood Wednesday at the grand opening of Threads for Teens, a boutique filled with new, donated designer clothes for teen girls who don't have the allowances or family support to go back-to-school shopping.
"It's a self-esteem booster," Allyson said, explaining why it's important for young people to dress well. "Bullying can happen if someone is dressed differently, so I wanted to stop it in my own small way."
The store is open by appointment only so Allyson can make sure she has items in each girl's size. She works with programs that serve at-risk youth, and asks them to select girls to participate.
For its debut, Allyson invited a dozen teen girls to peruse clothing in the Windsor storefront, all of whom are involved in CASA, a court-appointed special advocate program for children who have been removed from their homes because of abuse, neglect or abandonment.
Each teen had a private appointment and could pick two full outfits, including purses, sunglasses and belts, as well as a formal dress and shoes to match.
A shy 16-year-old girl came up to the counter with a flowing blue top, black high-tops and a white purse.
Allyson's mother, Amy Ahlstrom, packed the items into a shopping bag while Allyson checked the items off a spreadsheet listing 150 tops, 150 jeans, 33 necklaces, 11 pairs of sunglasses, 50-plus purses and other items donated to the cause.
The girls also received makeup, a backpack full of school supplies and a coupon for a haircut.
"It's so from her heart," said Lisa Ormond, co-director of admissions at Ursuline, who came to the store for its debut. "She really wants to do good."
Allyson got the idea for Threads for Teens from reading "Generation Change" by Zach Hunter, a Christmas gift from her mother.
"She finished the book and said, 'I have to do something,' " her mother said.
Allyson hopes to become a fashion editor or designer, and decided she would work hardest at a cause that involved something she already loved. The next morning she handed her mother a stack of 200 letters addressed to fashion designers asking them to donate.
"She even looked up the addresses and proper contacts," her mother said. "She thinks out every little detail."
They were shocked by the response from popular labels such as Miss Me, Chinese Laundry, Joe's Jeans and Blowfish Malibu Shoes. The companies began to send loads of clothing that took over the family's living room and Allyson's bedroom, enough to eventually fill a donated storage unit. Denbeste Property Management Company donated the south Windsor storefront.
Allyson has worked more than 150 hours to open Threads for Teens (each hour tracked on a spreadsheet), a feat that doesn't surprise her mother.
"She's always been that way," her mother said.
When Allyson turned 10, she donated the birthday gifts from her party to a foster home.
When she was 11, she cut 12 inches off her hair and gave it to a program that makes wigs for cancer patients.
After Hurricane Katrina, she asked people for extra toiletries and sent a huge box to a church in Texas where many survivors were staying.