Steampunk shop fuels fight against teen homelessness
There is such a thing as too much of a good thing. For staff at My House, a Wasilla-based nonprofit that helps homeless teens in the Mat-Su Valley, it was donations. They had more clothes than they knew what to do with.
Thankfully, 18-year-old Kyra Hoenack had a solution. Involved with My House since she was 15, the Valley teen proposed Steamdriven, a resale boutique targeted at teenagers as a way to sell the excess donations.
The clothes, which came in a slew of styles and sizes, needed to be cool though, she said.
“I’m really picky about what comes in and what goes out because if I wouldn’t wear it, I wouldn’t expect these kids to,” said Hoenack, who served as a board member at My House before becoming the resource manager.
That’s where the steampunk theme comes into play, which enables Hoenack and 16-year-old co-worker Nadia Makitrina to repurpose the clothes and give them a playful edge.
Steampunk, a science fiction and fantasy subgenre, features steam-powered machinery in lieu of advanced technology and the Victorian-era or American “Wild West” clothing — usually embellished with metal gadgets — that was en vogue during that time.
“[Steampunk] has a lot of futuristic things involved in the clothing, like gears, goggles, metal things, but it also can be professional clothing that you just add a little bit of ruffles to or lace, or it can be more of a punk look with lots of metal,” Hoenack said.
The store embodies the steampunk spirit. Inside on a recent weeknight, jackets adorned with lace, metal chains and bustles hung from pillars and poles. A Victorian-style patterned dress with a black corset vest was propped in view of the doorway, a look completed with a silver chain clock necklace. Lace-up boots, top hats and goggles were scattered along the store, along with blouses, jeans, dresses, more jackets, jewelry and scarves.
It’s hard to believe the resale boutique has only been open since September, said Michelle Overstreet, founder of My House, which was created in 2010 and received its nonprofit status in November 2012.
They moved into their downtown Wasilla location in June 2013 and opened up a drop-in center and cafe Gathering Grounds, the nonprofit’s first for-profit venture. Then, the piles of clothes started coming in and something had to be done.
“Last summer [Hoenack] said, ‘We should start a shop.’ And I said, ‘Oh, my gosh, I can’t do one more thing, I’m totally buried, but I’ll hire a business consultant to come and help you if you want to write a business plan for that,’” Overstreet said.
So, Hoenack teamed up with consultant Mari Jo Parks to draft a plan and budget. The 18-year-old Spirit of Youth nominee also worked with My House’s grant writer to secure $9,700 for remodeling, their tagging system and other miscellaneous expenditures.
Makitrina’s creative contributions have also been a tremendous help, Hoenack said.
“I’m so happy to have her,” Hoenack said. “She’s got great ideas.”
Makitrina knew some sewing basics when she started the job in September, but working at Steamdriven has expanded her knowledge. She says she’s had a passion for fashion since she was around 8 years old, and wants to design her own original clothes.
But interacting with the clients — the homeless teens — is a large part of what makes the job so rewarding, Makitrina and Hoenack say.
“You get to know the kids and you bond with them,” said Hoenack, adding that My House has served nearly 190 clients so far.
There are hundreds of homeless Valley teens, Overstreet says, many of whom are in need of a warm meal and a fresh set of clothes — things My House provides. Meals are provided on weekdays and clients who reach goals established by My House are eligible for vouchers that can go toward clothing from the boutique.
“They’re always super amazed, very grateful that all of this could be done for them and they always look at stuff and they’re always unsure; they’re like, ‘I feel like I’m taking too much,'” Hoenack said of the teens. “But it’s here for them, so it’s amazing to see their eyes light up and they’re like, ‘Wow.’”
“We’re a hand-up, not a hand-out,” said Overstreet, who formed My House after working at Burchell High School, where she says she saw too many hungry kids with subpar job skills and nowhere to go.
“I felt like as a state and a community we’re better than that, we have more to offer kids than that,” she said. “There’s so many good things that we can do and we have the resources.”
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