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Sherwood Park students creating clothing line to combat addiction and poverty

Students at Sherwood Park high school use art to explore addiction and mental health
WATCH: Students at a Sherwood Park high school are using their art to explore tough issues through United Way’s Dentons Make Your Mark on Poverty initiative. Community reporter Morgan Black explains how fashion and compassion intersect.

High school students in Sherwood Park are hard at work, creating a line of T-shirts they hope will explore challenging topics.

Salisbury Composite High School and Next Step students are producing clothing with graphics and messages that address issues like addiction, mental health and poverty.

“I want them to have a voice and know that their voice matters. It’s important. I hope they come away with something that they are proud of,” explained teacher Kristian Basaraba.

WATCH: One in eight Edmontonians live in poverty and many of them are children. The United Way’s #UNIGNORABLE Kickoff Festival aims to change. Carolyn Campbell and Rob Yager share details.

United Way #UNIGNORABLE kickoff festival to help impoverished Edmontonians
United Way #UNIGNORABLE kickoff festival to help impoverished Edmontonians

Grade 12 student Courtney Hannah picked an anatomically correct heart with a syringe emerging from it for her brand’s logo. Underneath, a small sign with the words ‘Help!’ can be seen. She hopes her shirt sends a strong message.

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“We can do things to help people and don’t always help people,” Hannah said. “There is hope out there to get clean. There is hope not to be homeless. I’ve known people who are homeless. I care about people not being on the streets.”

As part of the project, Basaraba invited his friend Liam Copeland to speak with the students about his own experiences with addiction.

“I stood in front of the kids and I told my story. Addiction continues to grow and drugs are prominent in high schools,” Copeland said.

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“I was really happy to come in and talk about things like the connection between addiction, mental health and poverty. That’s generally what will happen.”

Student Leanne Fayad, whose T-shirt depicts a woman struggling with addiction, said teens are no stranger to these issues.

A selection of shirt designs from Sherwood Park students in January 2020
A selection of shirt designs from Sherwood Park students in January 2020 Morgan Black/Global News

“It hits us hard. I can relate to it and a lot of my friends can,” Fayad said. “I like to contribute to big things like this. It helps a lot of people differently. Everyone gets educated more about the topic through things like this.”

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Copeland said it’s important to challenge the stigmas around issues like addiction.

“When you fall into addiction, poverty, mental health issues… you can’t just flip a switch and change what you’re doing. Quite honestly, it’s impossible,” Copeland said. “I was homeless for the summer a few years ago.”

Copeland was impressed by the students’ designs.

“Courtney’s design [of the heart and the syringe] spoke to me immediately. The syringe is always a symbol of addiction. It’s a design that would be utilized quite well by this project.”

The T-shirt project is in collaboration with Suka Clothing, with the intent to sell the shirts for charity. Funding for the project is part of a grant from United Way’s Dentons Make Your Mark On Poverty, which supports student-led projects that take action against local poverty.

“The grant allowed us to bring Suka Clothing in, it allowed us to purchase T-shirts, some material to make the T-shirts. Then the funding will be used to mass produce the T-shirts that we want to sell for charity,” Basaraba said.

A fashion show displaying the clothing items will happen on March 2, 2020 at The Aviary.

The shirts are not available yet, but they’ll be available for purchase when the project is complete here.