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Bursting at the seams
Charity outgrows its humble beginnings

CONYERS - If you walk into Jocelyn Green's Conyers home as a stranger, you might think she's a pack rat. She has clothes piled in every closet and room of her house - in the guest bedrooms and in the basement. You'll also find several racks of clothing, shoes, hats and other items in her basement and garages. And her car also is often full of clothes and accessories.

However, all of those clothes, accessories and household items stuffed away aren't for her or her family. They are for men, women and children in Rockdale, Newton and DeKalb counties who have found themselves in crisis situations and need help.

Green operates a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, A Special Boutique, which collects clothing, accessories and household goods for all ages and genders and distributes them to people at area shelters and homes for no cost.

"Most of the people I serve are not indigent people living in a box," said Green, formerly at teacher at DeKalb Technical College's Clarkson campus. "It's usually somebody who got laid off or didn't make the rent and lost everything. ... Some people have had to leave their homes with just the clothes on their back because of domestic violence or a fire."

Since October 2006, she's been going into shelters and visiting with individual referrals who need such help.

"I want people to maintain their dignity; I want to make them feel special," she said.

At first, she started by simply giving away clothing items - mostly women's clothing that she got from friends - to people she knew who needed help.

"I got all of these fabulous clothes; some still had the price tags on them," she said. "I didn't know if people would respond or take me seriously, but I got them faster than I could give them away."

One of the first donations she made was to some young orphans in South Africa. She took a trip to Cape Town, South Africa, and had a "bittersweet" experience.

"I saw so many wonderful things there; everything was beautiful," she said. "But there was so much poverty there. That was my initial inspiration."

After her trip, she sent some professional attire to a teacher she met there and later sent some formal gowns to a group of orphans whose parents died from HIV/AIDS for the town's annual Youth Day celebration. Later, the group sent Green pictures to show their appreciation.

"Other than teaching, this (organization) is the most rewarding thing I've ever done," she said.

In March, she took the advice of her friends and made her then-hobby a nonprofit organization to open more doors and expand her services.

"I started out just accepting women's clothes, but when I got into the shelters, I saw whole families there," she said. "Now I accept everything for men, women and children of all ages."

After her organization started provided clothing to families, Green started getting donations of dishes, blankets and other household items.

"I thought, 'Now, what am I supposed to do with these?'" she said. "But the shelters are encouraging the people to get on their feet, and sometimes they need everything."

So now she wants to help as many people as she can get everything they need.

Last year, A Special Boutique helped new Georgia resident Claudia Brown, who was living at a shelter with her children after her husband died.

"I thank God for her. ... You don't find many people like that - her heart is real," Brown said of Green. "There are not enough thank-yous in the world. ... We need more people who can love like that."

Now, Brown is one of the volunteers who help Green by storing clothing in their homes and delivering clothing to other needy people.

"I'm just there for her; I have no other choice because she's been there for me," Brown said. "We need to help others because God loves us."

Green already is looking at other ways to better her organization.

"I need a facility," she said. "I've had such an overwhelming response that there are things in my house and in my friends' houses. ... I'm using every available space."

When Green goes into a shelter or a referral's house to find individuals to help, she will go to her home or to her friends' homes to find items and bag them up to bring back to the people later.

She said if she could find an empty building where she could store all of the items she gets, she could have people or families come in alone to interview with her to discover their needs and then "shop," although she doesn't sell any of the items she gets.

"I don't need a lot to get started, but I'd like to service the public in a more effective way," she said, adding that A Special Boutique also offers employee readiness training, life skills classes and provides contacts for Bible studies, counseling and other services.

Green also hopes to soon start applying for grants and find other ways to get money for the organization.

"I'd love to go out and find something for somebody if I don't have it in my stock," she said. "I also need some more racks. ... I can't do this by myself; it's the community helping me."

In the future, she hopes to have a building each in Newton, Rockdale and DeKalb counties.

"There's so much need," she said. "I'm so relieved that something I started a couple of years ago has turned into this."

Those who are in need or want to donate items to A Special Boutique can call Green at 404-819-5341 or e-mail her at aspecialboutique@yahoo.com. Her forthcoming Web site will be www.aspecialboutique.org.

Michelle Floyd can be reached at michelle.floyd@newtoncitizen.com.