New community closet honoring woman’s memory set to open in Kansas City

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- A metro woman's volunteer spirit is now a legacy of love as a community closet will honor her memory.

Anne Klein once said, "clothes aren't gong to change the world, but women who wear them will."

"Keisha was full of life, full of energy," her mom Carla Smocks said. "She had a passion for the marginalized throughout her career."

Smocks said her daughter, Keisha Clay, gave all her time and effort to those in need. Her contributions are almost too much to list.

She dedicated much of her time at Church of the Resurrection in Leawood as a praise coordinator working with children, she worked with the YMCA, Boys & Girls Club, and was a board member for the Ronald McDonald House Red Shoe Society.

Keisha graduated from St. Theresa's Academy in 2003. She received a bachelor of arts from St. Louis University in Communications and African-American Studies, and her masters at Park University in Public Affairs.

In June, Keisha died at 34 years old of an acute asthma attack.

"Very, very hurtful. My only child, so very hurt. Still deeply hurt," Smocks said. "Working with Connections to Success to work on Keisha's Closet has given me healing and hope to do this in her honor."

Also in that list of Clay's volunteerism is Connections to Success, an organization that helps break the cycle of poverty through empowerment and education. They teach people how to present their best self, and in turn, change the direction of their lives.

Clay volunteered in their boutique for a time. She helped clients find the best clothing for them as they prepared for job interviews. She even got her mother involved in doing mock job interviews with clients, and helping them with their resumes.

When Clay graduated with her masters degree, she asked for donations to Connections to Success instead of gifts.

So when Smocks felt ready to clear out her closet, Connections to Success asked if they could start a new one.

The organization's boutique has been in place for years, but now they wanted to honor the young woman who did so much for the Kansas City community.

Barbara Fitzgerald, the organization's senior director of resource development, said Clay is an inspiring example to their clients.

"I was so impressed with just knowing about Keisha and hearing about her, I immediately felt that Carla just giving Keisha's clothes to us wasn't enough," Fitzgerald said. "I felt like we had to do more to continue her memory, and to keep her memory alive."

Keisha's Closet is almost finished, with the help of her friends and volunteers pitching in.

The new boutique is filled with not only Clay's clothing, but accents and furniture from her apartment -- including the chandeliers.

Smocks said her daughter loved anything that glittered and felt people should spread happiness like glitter every day.

The closet will help low-income clients going on a job interview and building a business wardrobe. The closet serves both men and women. The organization benefits around 1,000 people each year in either a small or substantial way.

"I want them to feel hope and that they can achieve success, and they can make a difference," Smocks said. "They can break poverty cycles."

"Our program truly approaches those problems at its core," Fitzgerald said. "We're reaching out to the generation that can make a difference. That can make a difference in their children's lives."

It's the kind of difference Smocks says Clay would want to keep making.

"I think Keisha would say, 'Mom, I'm so proud of you.'"

The organization said they're always looking for volunteers to help in the closet and within their organization. They need mentors for their clients, people to help with resume building and mock interviews and much more.

The organization plans to honor Keisha at their fundraiser, Tribute to Success, in November.

Miss USA Chelsie Krist is scheduled to attend the event. She shares Clay's passion in helping women dress for success and ending the cycle of poverty, and writes the business-fashion blog White Collar Glam.

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