Empowering Our Community: The Cougar Closet and Women United's Impact

As the school year kicks off, the halls of Asheville Middle School are buzzing with excitement and anticipation. Students eagerly reconnect with friends and embark on new academic adventures. It's a time of fresh beginnings and renewed opportunities for growth. At the heart of it all lies the Cougar Closet, a vital resource that ensures students have the support they need to thrive. Today, we're thrilled to share a heartwarming story of collaboration and community spirit as Women United, an affinity group of the United Way of Asheville and Buncombe County, joined forces to transform the Cougar Closet into a place of warmth, inclusion, and empowerment.

Steve Martinez, the Community School Coordinator at Asheville Middle, had a vision to create a classroom that served as a learning space and a haven where students could feel at home. Steve's dream became a reality with the support of Women United- an affinity group here at United Way of Asheville and Buncombe County. Affinity groups coven like-minded philanthropists and community members to connect, and put their passion into action as a group. For example, led by UWABC staff members Ella Pullman, Erika Goffin, and Kris Dione, members of the Women United and Highland Circle affinity groups joined forces to ensure the Asheville Middle School(AMS) resource room and Community School classroom where places they felt confident in financially supporting. 



Over the course of two days, these remarkable individuals poured their hearts and souls into cleaning, decorating, and organizing Steve's classroom and the beloved Cougar Closet. The result? A cozy, personalized, and social environment that radiates positivity and inclusivity.

The Cougar Closet is a shining example of the Community School Pillar's integrated student support system. It offers a wide array of new and fashionable clothing, nourishing food, name-brand school supplies, and personal care products for all students. This resource plays a pivotal role in ensuring that no child faces barriers to learning due to unmet basic needs.

After two clean up shifts - spanning over two days the Women united and Highland Cirlce affinity groups bid Steve good luck as he prepared for the first Community Night featuring Homework Diner of the Fall 2023 semester.  The grand moment arrived as the Cougar Closet had its ribbon-cutting ceremony. The atmosphere was electric, thanks in part to the efforts of  AMS staff. 

Families from across the Asheville Middle School community and even beyond, gathered to work together or enjoy a catered meal with the staff. Laughter and music filled the air, and high school students bonded over shared interests while scrolling through their phones. In one corner, a family diligently tackled homework, creating a nurturing environment within Steve's classroom. Meanwhile, younger students roamed from room to room, weaving through families seated at tables.

But perhaps the most heartwarming scene of all was watching students enthusiastically select clothing and resources from the freshly opened Cougar Closet. Their excitement was palpable as they discovered new Jordans, dresses, and cozy fall jackets. For many, these items would boost their confidence and self-esteem, making their journey through school a little brighter.

.But the heartwarming story doesn't end here. The Cougar Closet and resource rooms across our seven Community Schools always need donations of new or gently used clothing and shoes. Your support can help empower more students and make their school experience more positive and uplifting.

As we reflect on this heartwarming tale of community, compassion, and transformation, we invite you to be part of our mission. Join affinity groups like Women United and help us create a brighter future for the students in our community. 


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