FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. (WNCN) — There are students across North Carolina who are missing school just because they don’t have clean clothes to wear.
A Cumberland County elementary school now has a program addressing the issue, allowing students to wash their clothes at the school.
J.W. Coon Elementary School in Fayetteville applied for the Care Counts Laundry Program through Whirlpool. It’s one of two schools in North Carolina to recently receive a new commercial washer and dryer from Whirlpool.
School parents can now schedule times several days a week to do laundry at the school for free.
“We were finding parents were having difficult times and we just really wanted to provide an opportunity that we could help them through some of those difficult times,” said Tianna Obrien, school principal.
She said some families are struggling to keep the water and electricity on. Others don’t have a washer or dryer and can’t afford to go to the laundromat. It has caused several students to constantly miss school.
“It might not be a long-term thing but an in-between, but kids still have to come to school, and they still have to have clean clothes,” Obrien said.
“If you don’t look good you don’t feel good. You know if you look good, you feel good. If you feel good you want to come to school,” she also said.
The school even has a closet at the school full of donated pants, coats, bookbags, and take-home food bags for students in need.
“Yes, test scores are so important but so is it that we make sure we are here for all of our kids and giving them everything that they need to be successful for their futures,” Obrien said.
The school is even seeing improvements in attendance and a decline in suspensions since the laundry room opened. The principal believes a student’s background and life circumstances shouldn’t block their pathway to achievement.
“Fifteen years from now my kids come back and say, ‘Ms. Obrien I made it. You know, I did it. I went to college. I pursued my dreams. You told me I could do it. I believed in myself and I did it,’” Obrien said.
The laundry room is in a strategic location on campus, giving parents and students privacy. Parents must schedule times to come do laundry with the school’s part-time social worker.
Whirlpool donates all of the laundry detergent and fabric softeners. Whirlpool is also giving J.W. Coon Elementary School a $10,000 stipend to purchase additional items students might need.
According to Whirlpool, chronic absenteeism impacts an estimated 16 million students across the country, or 1 in 3 students.
Since the Care Counts Laundry Program started in 2015, schools have reported an increase in students’ attendance rates and grades. The program is in 154 schools across 40 states. Whirlpool plans to expand it to all 50 states by 2028.
Click here to learn more on the Care Counts Laundry Program.