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The staff at Threads and Alliance for Community Transformations, from left to right: Kimberly Phillips-Roderigue, Nicole Fain, Averi Reis, Alyssa Irizarry and Dare Chammings.

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BENNINGTON — Main Street has always been a place for teens to gather. Now, thanks to Threads, downtown Bennington is also a safe haven for any teen who needs extra support.

Threads, at 439 Main St., was created only for teens. Inside, visitors can find gender-neutral clothes, accessories, toiletries and menstrual products — all free of charge.

Kimberly Phillips-Roderigue, the restorative programs director at Center for Restorative Justice, said Threads started as a way for teens to get clothes they can feel comfortable in. Through no fault of their own, Phillips-Roderigue noted, teens might be embarrassed and stay home from school because they don’t have access to laundry or hygiene products.

Since Threads has teamed up with Alliance for Community Transformations and the Take Care Project, teens in Bennington have access to a wide variety of clothing and various hygiene products. In the shop, everything is free and the staff work hard to make sure everyone is comfortable.

Threads is stocked with tops, bottoms, seasonal clothing, shoes, accessories and prom attire. There is also a small section with gifts that the teens can take for loved ones.

Threads is completely funded by donations and grants provided by the Department of Children and Families. The grants cover rent, as well as the hourly wage for the teens who work there. Donations cover everything else.

While the program is a bright spot in the community, it’s not without its problems. Threads ran into some bad luck when a couple took advantage of the staff’s kindness, Phillips-Roderigue recalled. The couple came in when the shop was staffed and took a few items they needed. Then, when there was no staff around, they returned and took several large bags of items to sell. Devastated, Phillips-Roderigue recounted the incident on social media.

After her post, Threads began receiving large donations, making up its lost inventory and then some. The walls, racks and tables are filled with trendy clothing, and the back room is filled to the brim with donations that still need to be sorted.

Once sorted, the items are put on display in a setup similar to a department store. The clothing is arranged by size and type. All of the accessories are in one room, tops are in another, jeans and pants are in a third area, and so on. There are also styled outfits on the wall to give shoppers inspiration, similar to outfits on store mannequins.

To set the mood, there is teen-friendly music while visitors peruse the racks.

“We wanted to set it up so when kids came in, it felt like they could just kind of shop around and pick out their own stuff,” said Phillips-Roderigue.

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The biggest distinction between Threads and a department store is that all of the sections in Threads are gender-neutral; no section is defined by gender. When teens come in, they can choose any clothing items they want without limitations.

“We’ve had some kids pick some really fun things,” said Phillips-Roderigue. She went on to tell a story about a teen who came into Threads and found a shirt that was perfect for him, and his time at Threads ended up being “the best part of his day.” Phillips-Roderigue said he owned that shirt and “wore it like a boss.” That story is a example of how the staff at Threads want every teen to feel when they leave.

When it comes to keeping Threads on top of the trends, a large portion of the credit belongs to the teens who work there after school. They are paid an hourly wage and are in charge of keeping Threads running. Averi Reis, 16, is a co-manager at Threads.

“I really like being able to help people who may not have what they need. I like to help them find cute clothes that are on trend and that are good brands instead of stuff people wouldn’t want to wear,” said Reis.

Reis and other teens who work at Threads are learning valuable skills that will transfer to life after high school. Their job at Threads can help them choose a path in retail or boost their college application.

Teens who visit Threads will be greeted by a manager. The teens will sign in and then be let in. They’ll be able to look around, pick what they want and ask for help if they need it. They will also be able to shop in the Refresh at Threads cabinet.

The Refresh cabinet exists because of ACT’s Take Care Project, an initiative to get free menstrual and personal care products into the hands of Bennington youth. Many Bennington citizens cannot afford menstrual products. The Take Care Project helps alleviate some of that stress for Bennington’s youth.

Threads and ACT have made the Refresh cabinet gender-neutral. “Not all menstruators identify as women, and things like period underwear … are very inclusive of all genders,“ said Alyssa Irizarry, projects coordinator for ACT.

The Refresh cabinet is stocked with various hygiene products like soap, shampoo, conditioner and other essentials. Making hygiene and menstrual products accessible and inclusive helps reduce the shame and stigma that surrounds these items.

Dare Chammings, director at ACT, added that hygiene products can be difficult to attain. Although the funding for SNAP benefits has increased since the beginning of the pandemic, hygiene products aren’t covered under SNAP. These products are still unaffordable for many people.

Teens use clothes and the way they look to show their individuality. A lack of access to clothing and hygiene products can have a negative impact on their self-esteem. “Threads empowers teens to express themselves, increase their self-esteem and boost confidence levels,” said Phillips-Roderigue.


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