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Teacher forms ‘Birdie’s Closet’ to help students in need

*Editor's note: The article has been updated to reflect the partnership efforts between Family Specialist Ramon Ramirez and teacher Vanessa Kerr who both made Birdie's Closet possible. 

Second-grade teacher Vanessa Kerr spent part of her morning organizing a closet that she holds close to her heart.

The room is home to Birdie’s Closet at Royal Ridge Elementary School.

The walls are decorated with charming lights and words of encouragement.

The shelves are filled with clothes, shoes, undergarments and snacks that are all free for kids who need it most.

“There’s personal items like deodorants and toothbrushes, shoes and a few winter items that were actually knitted by one of our volunteers that comes here,” she explained.

This is Kerr’s first year at Royal Ridge and was previously at Hardy Oak Elementary.

“I think as an educator, I realized quickly that the heaviest load that kids are carrying is not in their backpacks. It’s not having a snack; it’s not having shoes that fit. They carry all of that with them and it’s hard to learn,” she said.  

Kerr said the idea to form a space like this came about after a conversation with her grandparents Daniel and Mary Cretaro who are 87 and 90 years old.  

Mrs. Cretaro, who lives only a few streets away from the school, was surprised to hear about the position of a Family Specialist and why there is a necessity to have them there for the kids.

“I think she was shocked to hear that there are students right in her backyard that are in need so just spawned into this idea of ‘how can we help and what can we do,’” Kerr explained.

Mr. and Mrs. Cretaro gave Kerr a donation and Birdie’s Closet,’ a space filled with new and like-new items for students was born.

“My grandmother has gone by the name Birdie since she was 9 months old. She would flap her arms when she wanted to walk and that’s why I wanted to call it Birdie’s Closet in her honor,” Kerr added.

Kerr partnered with Family Specialist Ramon Ramirez to make it all happen. 

This is also Ramon's first year and has played an active role in the closet. 

Ramon will be servicing the students and maintaining Birdie's Closet, which is in his classroom, daily. 

"This is his first year in the role and he's done a great job taking the initiative to help families in the community," NEISD's Family Engagement Liaison Araceli Dominguez said. 

Eight-year-old Amelia Oeffinger is one of Kerr’s students.

She said her teacher, who was just nominated as campus teacher of the year, is an inspiration.

“I think it’s really cool because people who don’t have anything can just walk around in there and get something for themselves,” she said.

Amelia is happy to see so much love shared at her school.

“I would say ‘hey, you might not have shoes that fit, you should go down to Birdie’s Closet, because they do,” Amelia said.

The community has rallied Kerr’s project.

One couple at Costco even gave her $40 after hearing about it.

“I have a friend that works at Hardy Oak, Ashley. Her daughter Harper went through her closet and pulled out a lot of clothes she had never worn also some that was like-new as part of a service project. She spent hours organizing the clothes and sent them to me,” Kerr said.

She said she’s thankful to be surrounded by people who care.

“Royal Ridge is an amazing school and just from being here half of a year-this is my first year here- everyone has been so welcoming. Not just the staff and the administration but also the community and the students,” Kerr added.

Just like the North East Clothes Closet that’s open to all NEISD families in need, this is just one more way NEISD is stepping in to make a difference.

“She’s helping us learn different things to help change the world and she is helping her family change the world too,” Amelia said.For information on how to donate to Birdie’s Closet, please contact Royal Ridge Elementary at 210-407-7000.

To learn more about the NEISD Clothes Closet, click here:

Discover the NEISD way, where our educators go the extra mile to advocate for students, school, and the community.

Ashley Speller