Palm Beach Atlantic University freshman Emily Cassidy figured out at a young age the transformational power of a pair of designer jeans.
Her volunteer work with young girls who come from troubled home situations taught her that small things like new clothes or even a fresh coat of nail polish could have a big impact on the girls' self-esteem.
That idea eventually led to Keeps Boutique, a store that Cassidy started in her hometown near Dallas that allows girls in foster care and group homes to shop for designer clothes for free.
"We wanted it to be all new designer things," said Cassidy, 19, a communication major who was a high school student when the store opened. "We wanted to give them the best of the best."
All of the store's high-end clothing has been donated, and she works with local children's charities to arrange shopping trips for girls in need. Cassidy personally helps the girls select outfits, and she also talks to them about their lives. Often she will pray with the girls, and she reassures them that God loves them.
"Really the clothes are just a vehicle to their hearts," Cassidy said.
The name Keeps is taken from Genesis 28:15, which speaks of God's promise that He is always with us and will keep us wherever we go, Cassidy said.
|Two of Keeps Boutique's visitors|
Cassidy's mother, Jennifer Cassidy, estimates that her daughter has helped lead more than 50 girls to Christ since the store opened. "She's made a lot of great relationships," she said. "She's really impacted some lives through it."
Joni Delaney, a house mother for teen girls at Christ's Haven Home for Children in Keller, Texas, has witnessed this firsthand. During a recent trip to Keeps, girls from Christ's Haven were able to shop for designer jeans.
"The boutique is a big deal to my girls," Delaney said, adding that many of them enjoy being able to have some of the same quality clothing that their friends wear.
Cassidy always reminds the girls that everyone is equal in God's eyes, Delaney said. "She prays over them. I leave crying every time we go."
Recently, a second Keeps Boutique opened in Tyler, Texas. While Cassidy is away at PBA, her mother and a family friend, Whitney Otto, keep the main store going, while another friend, 18-year-old Emily Allegretto, operates the Tyler store.
Cassidy, whose minor is biblical studies, said that she especially enjoys event nights, such as the night she and her friends arranged a prom fashion show for a group of girls. Afterward, the girls all received prom dresses of their own.
"It's amazing to be able to work with girls," she said. "I love sharing grace, I love sharing truth and I love seeing the truth change their lives. It has been so beautiful to watch the lives unfold."