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2019 JEFFERSON AWARDS: Rock Island Mother Makes Difference With Old School Bus

There's an old red school bus that drivers around the area, but there are no students inside. Instead, there's a closet - Maddie's Closet.

In the Summer of 2017, Kelly Cook's daughter Maddie brought her some of her clothes and said this:

"Could we go find a girl who could wear these that's my size that's homeless?"

That question jumpstarted a nonprofit that is still growing today. Kelly, a stay-at-home mother of five, let Maddie take over a spare bedroom. Soon though, donations started pouring in - and so did people.

"We opened up on our home three times that summer for people to come in and shop and each time I think we helped 50 or 60 kids," said Kelly.

By Fall, Maddie's Closet was filling up fast.

"It quickly took over my entire house and quickly took over my garage, which is where the bus came in."

It was a great get, but a lot of work. Kelly's husband ripped out the seats, put down a nice floor, and installed clothing racks on the walls. Within weeks, the mobile boutique was on the road.

"We go to schools or we go to parks," explained Kelly. "We let the kids come on and they get to pick out 7 things that they like - something they're going to feel confident in."

Each bus stop serves dozens, sometimes more than 100 kids - not with a hand out, but a step up.

"I think a lot of times people feel embarrassed to step forward and say they need a little bit of extra help and really taking that out and letting kids jump in and do their thing and make it a fun experience for them is what makes it completely different from anything else," said Kelly.

"She believes and I believe that we are called to serve," said Lena Georgi, who nominated Kelly for the Jefferson Awards, a foundation that celebrates public service and the people in our communities who are changing lives. "The best way to serve people is through love and loving people. The best way to do that is give them things that they need."

Lena said Kelly is doing just that through Maddie's Closet - giving her love, energy, and time to a walk-in on wheels.

"I love her heart," described Lena. "We all have a million reasons why we don't have time to do stuff like that, but she still has time to love people and that's what I love about her."

"I love seeing kids smile," said Kelly. "Everybody has a different reason why they have a need, but I try to make sure people understand that needing something doesn't make you any less than anybody else. It's clothes and it's money. Articles and items don't make up a person."

Even though she's surrounded by those things, Kelly sees beyond them - how a dress for a dance can make a memory, how a coat for the cold can cause a transformation, and how a dedicated daughter can create a movement.

"All it takes is one person to see somebody and it can make you feel completely different," she said.

"Give For Good" is a slogan of the Jefferson Awards Foundation and Kelly, now a 2019 Jefferson Awards Nominee, is demonstrating how one person can make a difference.

"I have a lot of other things I do, but doing this fills a part of me that nothing else I will ever do can fill."

To learn more about Maddie's Closet, click here.

To learn more about the Jefferson Awards Foundation, click here.

Every Tuesday in January and February, WQAD News 8 is introducing you to our 2019 Jefferson Awards Nominees. Then, in April, we will announce our Jefferson Awards Finalist. That person gets to attend the National Jefferson Awards Ceremony in Washington, D.C. this June and meet other Jefferson Awards Finalists from across the country.

The Jefferson Awards are sponsored locally by Genesis Health System and Budget Blinds.

To see who was nominated in all four previous seasons of the Jefferson Awards on WQAD News 8, click here.

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