Quinn’s Qloset Helps Ames Students
When Ames Community School District parent, Cassie Bexten, saw a need in her community to provide clothing items for Ames’ littlest learners, she jumped into action. An action that would be no surprise to those who know her best. Bexten’s service-driven attitude is woven into the thread of everything she touches. She may not have expected that her little idea would excite students, create confidence, and inspire hope. Traits some might say mirror those of her daughter, Quinn.
Quinn Bexten attended Northwood Preschool Center from 2018 until 2020. At the age of three, Quinn, who has Down syndrome, communicated only using sign language. Bexten wanted to ensure her classmates could communicate with her daughter, so she started Quinn’s Qorner, a service to teach students sign language.
“I popped in about ten times her first year,” said Bexten, “for about 15-20 minute lessons. The kids really soaked it up!”
During Quinn’s time at Northwood, Bexten worked closely with many preschool teachers and even served on the Parent Teacher Organization (PTO). Here, she first realized the need for clothing for preschool students. That need was never more apparent than when she learned teachers were purchasing clothing for students in need out of their own pockets. That’s when Bexten stepped in with her idea.
“In the fall of 2021, when Cassie was Northwood’s PTO president,” said Kristin Barber, Principal at Northwood, “she reached out to teachers to see what they needed in their classroom. It started out with simple responses, and Cassie’s wheels started turning.”
“My husband is a carpenter, so I knew if I sketched something up, he could create it for me,” said Bexten, and out of that drawing came Quinn’s Qloset.
Quinn’s Qloset is a storage cabinet on wheels containing clothing, hygiene items, and more located at Northwood. Students are greeted with a mirror containing positive messages. They can shop, select, and try on items. All goods are free to Northwood families, even siblings in need. The Qloset is designed to be handicap accessible and stocked with products that leave students feeling they are genuinely shopping rather than being given items. Afterward, selections are placed in shopping bags to travel home, with smiles following closely behind.
Bexten’s vision certainly didn’t become a reality overnight. After her sketch, she had to devise a way to construct and then stock the closet. She called on her husband, Mike, for construction help, and began devising a fundraising plan. That fundraising plan launched an annual event at Northwood called Trike Trot & Roll. This Boosterthon event, held at Miracle League Park on April 23, 2021, provided a chance for learners to exercise their bodies and their brains. In-person and online learners were encouraged to walk, jog, or roll together to celebrate their Northwood family while working toward a common goal of supporting students’ learning opportunities.
“I wanted an event that would be fun for the kids, outdoors and safe during COVID,” said Bexten, “accessible to kids of all abilities, and had low pressure on Northwood families to donate.”
Northwood families could register online and create a fun star student video to share on parents’ social media with this event. In addition, family, friends, and viewers anywhere could donate. The event raised $8,000, of which a small portion was used to make Quinn’s Qloset a reality. Bringing it to life was left to the talents of Mike and his carpentry skills. He donated labor to build the Qloset and four handicapped-accessible toddler size picnic tables for Northwood.
“It was big and beautiful, and I knew immediately we could meet the needs of our students and possibly their siblings too,” said Barber when she saw the finished project. “I decided to put it in a central location because staff usually shops for the families who contact them directly. However, it is open for families to come to Northwood and shop too.”
Bexten stocked the Qloset with donations of gently used items. Through her service-minded lens, she continues to grow and adapt as she learns of other needs, even offering Halloween costumes. Bexten admits she is meticulous about the donations, selecting only new clothing or not heavily worn items.
“It’s important for me to provide quality clothing to our kiddos as they shop the Qloset,” Bexten added, “and have a dignified experience.”
The Qloset on wheels can quickly grow with Northwood and be portable. Donations entirely fund it, mainly clothing handled directly by Bexten, that she can sort through and clean. She stocks clothing sizes 3 through 8, new underwear and socks, shoes, coats, and many seasonal items. There are even some accessories like blankets, hats, belts, ties, and hair bows. Bexten accepts monetary donations via a Venmo account used to stock items in need. She also partnered with Duck Worth Wearing in Ames and Ankeny, creating an account under Quinn’s Qloset, where people can donate clothing or toys to that account name.
“We then get the credit when the item sells at Duck Worth,” adds Bexten, “so we can buy specifically needed items or sizes for kiddos.”
It’s no surprise that Bexten partnered with Duck Worth Wearing. Her desire to give back to the community mirrors that same want in Duck Worth owner, Amy Abrams.
“I love helping out the community any way I can, and this is a very easy and wonderful way to help those in need,” said Abrams. “Kids, unfortunately, get the backlash of the adult world. They just want to go to school and play with their friends and shouldn’t have to worry about having a warm coat or the appropriate clothes to wear.”
Duck Worth Wearing takes up to 50 clothing items per day with a schedule of seasonal needs on their website. Community members or parents wishing to utilize this service bring items into the store and state they would like the credit given to Quinn’s Qloset.
“We take care of the rest,” adds Abrams.
Bexten keeps growing the Qloset, with a keen eye to needs in the community. Right now, most needed are monetary donations and boys’ pants sizes 3 through 6. The Qloset also recently added superhero capes for kids undergoing challenging situations, including those facing medical issues.
“It gives a sense of relief that we are able to help families immediately when a request comes in,” said Barber. “However, it is heartbreaking when we run out of items like hygiene kits because it is evident there is a need in our community.”
Quinn is now a kindergartener who likes to read, act, sing, and dance. Her love of everything theatrical inspired her to participate in Iowa Miss Amazing in January 2022, a pageant featuring the abilities and beauty of girls and women in Iowa with disabilities. She also loves playing with her cousins and friends and taking care of the animals on her family’s acreage. But, when it comes to the Qloset, she especially thinks it’s fun to sort the laundry and help fold items.
“When I created Quinn’s Qloset, I definitely envisioned that she would take over the operation one day,” said Bexten. “Northwood was phenomenal in jump-starting her education, so I’d love for our family to always return back through the Qloset to continue supporting the amazing work the teachers and staff are doing there.
As the Qloset has grown and adapted since its start, what hasn’t changed is the inspiration it brings to everyone at Northwood. Teachers and families alike have a deep appreciation for the smiles and warmth it brings to students. Barber says she especially appreciates the fond memories it has created.
“One of my favorite memories is a student picking out a blanket to take home,” she reminisces. “Every time the student sees me in the hallway, there is a huge smile, and they tell me they still have their blanket and sleep with it every night, and it keeps them warm.”
For Bexten, she says inspiration comes in many forms. For her, it was simply watching the kindness of her daughter with Down syndrome, which then caused her to take action. After that, she says it was easy considering how she got to witness the incredible work being done at Northwood for both her daughter and many other children.
“Ames CSD and the Ames community are truly amazing,” she added, “and Quinn’s Qloset is so grateful for the support we’ve had. We are so lucky to have Northwood and its inclusive, caring, loving leaders.”
Quinn’s Qloset is a labor of love, one that Bexten hopes someday there can be similar spaces in all elementary schools. While Quinn’s Qloset did have material costs, Bexten says if a school has ample space available anywhere, it doesn’t have to be a closet on wheels. Since donations build up the space, volunteer time is needed most. However, she estimates if any building costs are necessary, a school could start up its closet for around $500.
“If you ever see a need and have an idea for how to meet it, your community will support you, so go for it!” says Bexten enthusiastically. “One person can make a difference if they just get started.”