It’s the end of the day at Great Salt Bay Community School and K-8 school counselor Jill Davis is restocking the comfort closet, a cubby near the entrance of the school stocked with clothes, toiletries and food. These essential items are available for all students to take as they need, free of charge.
Within just a few minutes, one older student grabs a bra and another a pair of socks.
Davis grew up in Colebrook, N.H. and has been on the staff at GSB since fall 2014. Prior to her work at the school, her experience included leading guided wilderness therapy backpacking trips in Colorado, working at the Leadership School at Kieve Wavus Education in Nobleboro and the Women’s Center in Damariscotta. Davis was considering a career in women’s health, but decided to go to graduate school to pursue education.
In her role as counselor, Davis teaches classroom lessons on coping skills and how to “get through some big emotions.”
“I meet with students individually and in small groups and work with families trying to see how to best meet the needs of our community,” Davis said.
Davis added that “every day is so very different.” But regardless of the day of the week or the season, the comfort closet is always popular with the students.
The comfort closet was launched by the student council in 2017 when staff noticed some older youth didn’t have enough access to feminine hygiene products.
“The council got together some money to buy the most basic needs that students really require to just be comfortable and learn,” Davis said. “Now students can stop by to pick out what they need, such as a clean shirt and deodorant or new underwear and a change of pants.”
While the comfort closet is available to all students no questions asked, this resource can be especially impactful for households who are struggling financially and have older children.
“Once you hit puberty you just need a lot of different stuff to keep your body clean and that costs money and it means you have to go to a store,” said Davis. “For families that don’t have a car and don’t have money, how are they supposed to keep your child in all the supplies they need?”
For parents and members of the community looking to support students, Davis said the best thing to do is ask how they can help.
“One of the parents will call me and say, ‘hey, I’m going to the store, is there anything the students might need this week?’ Just thinking of who you can reach out to in your community to say ‘I can offer this, do you need that?’ Like getting snacks donated is helpful. You can see how my door is the snack door and also the yarn door occasionally,” Davis said.
The GSB PTO will supply gift cards to Young’uns in Damariscotta so school staff can get whatever kids might need at the time. She recalled receiving an anonymous email “from someone named Snoopy and Lucy” who offered gift cards to local businesses.
“We had a few gift cards to Renys and went and got some more supplies for students,” Davis said. “One student who was going through some hard times and we went and got him a bunch of art supplies.”
Davis said another impactful way for people to support students is to “think of what you’re passionate about, like certain hobbies or crafts, that helps you through rough times and offer suggestions or materials for kids to pursue activities.” Ideas can be sent by email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Students are currently learning hand sewing and finger knitting, and the results are encouraging. “To watch many of them just completely relax while knitting is really powerful,” said Davis. “And then seeing them getting all their friends to try it, saying let’s try this, it’s actually kind of fun!”
For kids who may be going through a hard time, this kind of activity can make a big difference.
“Our middle schoolers especially just sometimes need something calming and a new skill that gives them something positive to do with our hands that’s relaxing – and that’s not technology,” Davis said.
Perhaps especially during a pandemic, a little bit can go a long way. “No one can do everything, but imagine if everyone in our community did a teeny bit,” she said.
(“Learning Together” is a monthly feature by the Great Salt Bay Parent Teacher Organization. GSB PTO supports students in their activities and aids staff and school programs. Membership is automatic for all parents, teachers, and administration. All meetings for the 2021-22 school year will be virtual and take place the first Thursday of the month at 6 p.m. For more information, go to greatsaltbayschool.org/pto and follow GSB PTO on Facebook and Instagram.)