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Style focus


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POSTED: Sunday, August 30, 2009

For two hours Thursday morning, teen participants in ProjectFocus Hawaii had the run of Macy's Ala Moana during a shopping spree before the store opened.

Each teen had $100 to spend toward an outfit they will be wearing to the grand opening of their photo exhibition, “;The Resilient Spirit,”; at the store tonight. The display will open to the public tomorrow and continue through Sept. 14. (See the cover story on Page XX for more details.)

The clothing allowance comes from the fundraising efforts of ProjectFocus Hawaii founders Laurie Breedan Callies and Lisa Uesugi, who developed the program in 2005 to teach photography and life skills to at-risk youths. While working with various social service agencies addressing those in need, children of incarcerated mothers, and this year, working with Hale Kipa and 13 youths in foster care, they realized the importance of clothing in boosting self-esteem.

“;We really realized how important it was when we were working with homeless children. Some of them didn't even have shoes,”; Callies said. “;We added clothing three years ago, and Macy's opens up the store and allows us to come in, pairing the kids up with personal shoppers who work with the kids in extending their dollars, helping them shop.

“;It's really special for the participants. I don't think they even realize the full impact of what they're doing until the night of the exhibition, when they're wearing their new clothes and meeting more than 300 of Hawaii's prominent business leaders who'll be attending the event.

“;(The kids) tell us what they'd like to be when they grow up, and we bring in people representing those areas, who can help them and support them.”;

Most of the students seemed to have no trouble maximizing their dollars. Two of the girls came within 7 and 12 cents of the $100 mark.

When 16-year-old Sherine (no last names are used due to family issues) heard about the shopping spree, she said, “;I was in my 'Oh my god' moment. It's fun and exciting.”; Her picks came to about $70, so she was sent back to the racks to pick out more items.

Arisha, 15, while focused on an outfit for the opening night reception, was also looking ahead, hoping to find a dress she could wear to prom next spring.

“;Jeans are more my style, but I like to wear dresses for more formal events,”; she said, browsing the racks while her personal shopper, Lisa George, offered some style advice and served as a human garment rack, holding a half-dozen dresses Arisha had selected to try on.

The boys in the program were even more focused than the girls. Downstairs, in the young men's and boys' departments, Jeffrey, 17, had picked up six items to purchase. Brendan, 13, outdid him with seven, picking up jeans and a dress shirt for the reception, plus three pairs of shorts and two T-shirts.

Jeffrey had gone in knowing what he wanted as well, looking for labels like Volcom, Quiksilver and Hurley.

“;I love to shop,”; he said. “;I wanted to get some nice slacks and a nice dress shirt.”;

Uesugi said, “;Everyone wants to wear something new to the event. A lot of times it's just what they need to stand up straighter and own it.”;