Middle school students at Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic School recently helped a local company design a line of clothing protectors for young people with disabilities.
Live On Goods makes clothing protectors that give individuals an alternative to wearing a bib and help wearers “dine with dignity.” Helen Nill is one of four partners who design the clothing protectors called bonTops.
The clothing protectors are made out of stain-resistant and waterproof fabric. They are also fashionable and designed to blend in with the wearer’s outfit. Some look like dress shirts or flowy blouses.
Nill said the partners originally designed the tops with older adults in mind — seniors and people with disabilities like Parkinson’s disease and ALS.
However, they quickly realized that the product could be useful for people of all ages who might need some help keeping their clothes clean during meals, such as individuals with cerebral palsy who have difficulty with bodily movements and trouble swallowing.
It’s difficult to find stylish clothing protectors on the market — many resemble shower curtains, Nill said. People, especially teenagers, want to fit in and that’s hard to do if that’s your only choice, she added.
Nill said the company wanted to design a line for tweens and teens, but they realized that they didn’t know what that age group likes. The partners reached out to a science teacher at Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton, Jodi Jump, who put a focus group together (five girls and five boys) to help the company figure out what designs and fabrics the middle school students liked.
Later, the middle school students voted for their favorite sample.
Eighth-grader Kendall Arnold said the tween designs help people fit in and feel more comfortable and confident.
“It’s something for people to wear to look dignified and look like any other person so that they don’t feel different in any way and they can just be comfortable with what they’re wearing and how people look at them,” she said.
Jack Ellis, who will enter the ninth grade this year, said he felt like he was making a difference by contributing to the project.
After learning about the people who could benefit from the clothing protectors, the students raised money to purchase the tops to donate. They sold popcorn and had a “dress down day” when students could pay to wear something other than their school uniform.
The students purchased 20 bonTops and donated them to Camp Red Cedar. The camp caters to children and adults with disabilities as well as children without disabilities.
The camp, which hosts both day programs and sleepaway camp, offers campers the opportunity to participate in a variety of outdoor activities including swimming and horseback riding.
The camp places an emphasis on inclusion, said Karen Shollenberger, vice president of Benchmark Human Services.
“That’s when the magic really starts happening — when kids start interacting with each other and are able to be together and help each other out. They all learn from each other,” she said.
The campers do everything together, including meals. Camp Red Cedar Director Carrie Perry said the campers have appreciated the donated clothing protectors. One camper named Jimmy liked his so much that he took it home with him.
Perry said Jimmy usually wore a traditional bib, but when he saw the stylish clothing protector, his eyes lit up.
“He just had the biggest smile on his face,” she said.