Allyson Ahlstrom remembers the moment that brought one young shopper out of her shell. While browsing the racks at Threads for Teens, the reserved girl noticed a sign on the wall that read, "You Are Beautiful." She opened up a bit, turned to Allyson and said, "Thank you. No one has ever said that to me before!"
At 17 years old, Ms. Ahlstrom is not your typical shopkeeper -- but then, Threads for Teens is not your typical shop. It is a boutique uniquely catered to the needs of underprivileged youth -- many in foster homes -- who leave feeling more beautiful, more confident and more cared for than when they arrived.
Over 200 young women so far have come in for custom shopping experiences, walking away with new outfits, accessories, toiletries, cosmetics and shoes. Backpacks stuffed with school supplies? Check! Prom dresses? You bet. Allyson has thought of everything. Threads For Teens is a head-to-toe boutique designed to make these girls feel as lovely and special as they are. Not surprisingly, many popular designers and brands have gladly donated high-fashion wares: Tommy Hilfiger, Claire's, UGGs and Hot Topic among them. And the project just keeps growing. Following her high school graduation next spring, Allyson will kick off the Threads for Teens On Tour, a store-on-wheels road trip outfitting a projected 1,000 girls across the whole country. Typical summer vacation? Not a chance.
We caught up with Allyson about her store and she also shared tips on managing her time and how other teens can launch their own non-profits. Read the interview below!
Photo: Allyson (right) with interior designer Kelsey Marie (left), who helped to decorate Threads For Teens.
ACT: You've said that "Generation Change" by Zach Hunter was the book that motivated you to put your vision into action. You even remember the day (1/17/10) that you finished reading it! What particularly made such an impression?
ALLYSON: Before reading "Generation Change," I had always been involved in volunteering for various organizations, and the high school I attended, Ursuline, had community service requirements. In fact, all seniors at my high school were required to do a large service project. As a freshman, I was extremely excited to do a senior project. After reading the book, I decided to start my project as freshman, because other kids were showcased who had accomplished amazing things, some as young as twelve!
ACT: How do you have time to do it all? You run a non-profit as a high school senior who happens to run varsity cross country & track, play piano and hang out with friends?!??!
ALLYSON: I have become extremely good at managing my time! I don't watch that much TV, so that helps!
ACT: What has been the toughest part of getting your project up and running? Anything surprisingly easy?
ALLYSON: The toughest part of getting Threads for Teens fully functioning was actually finding girls to come "shop" at the boutique when I first started the project. When I was explaining Threads for Teens to social workers, I don't think they fully grasped what I was trying to do. However, what I thought was going to be much harder than it is, was getting clothing donations from companies.
ACT: Any advice for teens who wants to start their own non-profits?
ALLYSON: If you are a teenager and want to start a service project, I would most definitely recommend to find a cause you are passionate about! If you aren't passionate, it will be hard to continue with the work that you started. Also, use age to your advantage! People are always willing to help others, especially if they see a hard-working individual.