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CJ Leight, 18, helped to launch the Upcycle Closet at Arundel High School

EH CJ Leight web pic.png
Posted at 5:00 AM, May 27, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-27 07:18:20-04

GAMBRILLS, Md. — Inside the Upcycle Closet at Arundel High School, students can find just about any outfit they want.

"We have suits and jeans and nice dress shoes," said CJ Leight. "You can pair this shirt with this blazer!"

Leight, 18, is a senior at Arundel and one of the students who led the charge in getting the Upcycle Closet up and running.

"We kind of wanted to make something where people wouldn’t feel alienated and they could just come and take what they need," he said.

Every item in the store is donated and comes with a price tag of $0.00. All students are welcome to "shop" in the closet and take whatever they need or want. There are also shelves of free hygiene products.

The project got started during Leight's sophomore year, under the guidance of his teacher, Carolyn Plitt.

"He was like 'I'm going to change the world', and I was like 'CJ, I’ll support you in however you want to change the world, you just gotta tell me," she said.

The project came to a halt when COVID-19 hit in March of 2020 and classes went virtual. Leight said that time proved to be extremely valuable in prepping the space, which was being used as a storage closet, for when school would eventually reopen.

"We had so many clothes to wash and so many things to sort and organize. It was great that we could upgrade to this room because we had a way smaller closet in an actual classroom."

"The amount of times we hit road blocks and I was ready to pull back a little but CJ and all the other students were like we’re going to keep working Mrs. Plitt, we’re going to figure it out," Plitt said. "And it meant the world because I knew if they were determined, I would be just as determined with them."

Last fall, the students were back at Arundel High and the Upcycle Closet officially opened its doors with racks of free clothes and shelves of free hygiene products.

"I like to think that a lot of people have enjoyed the closet. We’ve had a lot of great press and we’ve had a lot of great team members on this, and they deserve a lot of credit for that," Leight said.

The students, staff and volunteers who help with the closet all agree that Leight's determination, leadership and enthusiasm made this project possible.

"He is the epitome of an Arundel student," said Rachel Dewey, a senior at Arundel High. "He embodies all of the school’s values and he works really hard to make people feel welcome and comfortable."

"His senior year when he got all this built, he knew it can’t be built around CJ Leight. He realized it had to be built around the Arundel community," said Plitt. "So when CJ leaves in a week, which will be very heartbreaking for me, at least I have all these younger kids ready to take over."

Leight admits it will be tough to leave the Upcycle Closet but he's confident in the students who will run it next year, and the years to come. And he will graduate having learned one of the greatest lessons of all.

"Its about finding something more than yourself, it’s about doing something you can to help others."

To make a donation to the Upcycle Closet, or buy things off their Amazon Wishlist, click here.