Amanda Harris, a now 20-year-old college student at Washington University in St. Louis, Mo., said she had the idea for her project Wear then Share — which provides dance wear, shoes and dance lessons to disadvantaged children — when she was a dancer in middle school.
“I started in 2006 when I was in middle school because I’ve been a dancer all of my life and had gone through many different costumes and shoes for performances,” she said. “It was when I was getting fitted for a new leotard that I thought instead of throwing away these costumes or letting them pile up, I could start a collection bin at the studio and the immediate response was really positive.”
Harris said she took the idea to other studios around Atlanta and also began incorporating free dance lessons for children. “I think dance requires a lot of confidence and practice but the most important part is that it helps young kids feel beautiful and gains positive attention for them while teaching discipline and encouraging creativity,” she said.
To date, Harris has distributed more than 9,000 dancewear items, valued at more than $80,000, to thousands of children in the Atlanta area and taught hundreds of students how to dance.
Her project also garnered her the 2014 Diller Teen Tikkun Olam award, which is given annually to Jewish teens throughout the country who are tackling global issues and creating lasting change. Harris was awarded $36,000, a prize that she said will go towards her goal of attending medical school and becoming an obstetrics and gynecology doctor.
Rachel Bloom, project manager for the Helen Diller Family Foundation, the organization which funds the award every year, said Harris distinguished herself among the 344 nominations for this year’s award because of her personal connection with the work she does with the project.
“Amanda stood out because she took her personal passion for dance and it inspired her to really make an incredible difference in her community,” Bloom said. “The thing that is most exciting is she is being really thoughtful about building her project and expanding it.”
Harris now has a website with information about the project and said other dancers throughout the country have contacted her about starting their own Wear then Share bins in their communities.
“Branches of the project have been created in North Carolina, Ohio and several other states and I hope it continues to empower others to help and teach children through dance,” she said.
For more information about the project, foundation and award, visit www.wearthenshare.com and www.dillerteenawards.org.