It happens every year. Educators greet their students as they enter the classroom on the first day of school, smiling and full of hope, and they see that one student. She walks into the room, also full of smiles and hope, but part of that hope is that other students won’t notice she doesn’t have new shoes or uniform shirts this school year like the other kids. Other students lay out their brand-new markers on their desks and compliment each other’s new jackets, while she smiles shyly, hoping to sit in the back of the room and escape notice. Teachers all wish they could meet the needs of these students themselves, but that is not realistic. That is where DeWanna Tarver comes in.
DeWanna Tarver, founder of the non-profit organization, DeWanna’s Closet, saw a need in this community for educators to have access to resources for their students who lack some basic items. This organization is housed at J.D. Clifton Elementary where the principal, Pam Bell, has made room to support every student in this parish. It is open to educators on Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. An educator can shop for specific students during this time, or simply send an email of their student needs, and those requested items will be boxed up and sent directly to their school via interoffice mail.
Servicing Calcasieu Parish and its 34,000 students did not happen overnight. This dream-come-true for students and educators alike humbly started several years ago in J.C. Penney’s, where DeWanna saw uniform items on sale for a price she could not pass up, even though she did not have children who needed them. After calling local schools to donate these uniforms, she quickly realized there were many needs in our community for uniforms, shoes, jackets, belts, backpacks, and school supplies. She says that after doing a little research, she learned it was not just a North Lake Charles problem and it was not just a South Lake Charles problem -- it was a community problem.
"My husband Phillip and I have always had a heart for children,” says DeWanna. "I love to shop. God just put all of that together and made something beautiful.” Despite the challenges of getting this organization off the ground, it now thrives. If you are interested in making donations, checks can be made to J.D. Clifton Elementary with "DeWanna’s Closet” written in the description. They also accept cash and gift cards to help them purchase needed items. They stress that no donation is too small.
DeWanna’s son and Calcasieu Parish school board member Eric Tarver says, "For as long as I can remember, but especially so since I was elected to the school board, Mom has been focused on meeting kids’ needs wherever she sees them. We’ve watched this idea grow from her garage project into an operation that serves the whole parish. I am exceedingly excited and proud to see it continue to grow and changes lives for the better.”
Addressing that growth, the ever-humble DeWanna expresses, "I had no doubt that God had called us to it and the outcome would be determined by Him, not us.All we could do was our best. And time and time and time again since we opened in October , God has shown me that this is His program, these are His children, and He has it under control.And I am so thankful that He is allowing me to tag along for the ride.” It would be difficult for anyone to disagree with the fact that DeWanna Tarver is a local superhero to thousands of children in our community.