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Student Collects Jeans in Support of New Orleans Rebuild

Effort Honors Memory of Grandmother

Reaching out to people in New Orleans is in Imani Hayden’s genes … or shall we say jeans?

The Kelloggsville High School sophomore, in tribute to her late grandmother, Virginia Mock Bailey, recently collected 225 pieces of denim from her peers, church and community for Blue Jeans Go Green, a nonprofit organization that recycles denim jeans into insulation.

The denim will soon line the walls of 10 Habitat for Humanity Homes to be built in The Big Easy, marking the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. Imani delivered the denim in May to clothing retailer Madewell, in Ann Arbor, which partners with Blue Jeans Go Green.

Imani Hayden recently collected 225 pieces of denim from her peers, church and community for Blue Jeans Go Green
Imani Hayden recently collected 225 pieces of denim from her peers, church and community for Blue Jeans Go Green

Honoring her Grandmother

Imani has a special place in her heart for New Orleans, where her mother, Glenda Hayden, grew up and her grandmother lived until Hurricane Katrina devastated the community on Aug. 29, 2005. She used to visit every year for a family reunion.

But after the hurricane, her family’slives changed. Her grandmother’s home was destroyed, and she and her son, daughter and grandson (Imani’s aunt, uncle and cousin) moved north to live with the Haydens.

“My grandma always wanted to go down South again,” Imani said. But she died in 2011. “We never really had time or the chance to move her back down before she died.”

Imani and her family no longer return to the area as frequently as before the storm, but they visited last spring. The need to rebuild continues.

About Blue Jeans Go Green

  • The denim recycling program has collected more than 1 million pieces of denim.
  • These efforts have diverted over 600 tons of waste out of landfills and will generate approximately 2 million square feet of UltraTouch Denim Insulation to assist with building efforts.
  • Since the start of the program in 2006, insulation has been distributed to Habitat for Humanity affiliates around the country.

Source: Blue Jeans Go Green

“It looks very different,” she said, describing the city as less vibrant than in the past. “Even thought it’s 10 years later, the hurricane still has an effect on people.”

Mom Glenda Hayden informed Imani of Blue Jeans Go Green, and Imani knew it was an easy way teachers and students could make a difference. She passed out fliers about the denim drive. Her goal was to collect 100 items, which she more than doubled.

“The students and teachers are really involved and want to give back to the community and enjoy helping other people out,” she said.

Old Denim Makes a Difference

It’s cool to see things normally thrown away go to a good cause, she said. “I don’t think a lot of people would imagine that jeans can be used for insulation.”

Glenda Hayden said she was moved by the support Imani received.

“This minor gesture of donating used jeans to help families in New Orleans, over 1,100 miles away, warms my heart. My mother never made it back to New Orleans, but the greater Grand Rapids community ensured that her memory did with a simple pair of blue jeans,” she said.

At Kelloggsville, Imani is in the National Honor Society, leadership class and Black Student Union. She plays rugby for Grandville High School and dances at a local studio.

After graduation in 2016, she plans to attend a historically black college or university in the South majoring in business as a pre-law student.

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Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese has worked as a journalist in the Grand Rapids area since 2000. A graduate of Central Michigan University, she has written for The Grand Rapids Press, Advance Newspapers and On-the-Town Magazine. She has been covering the many exciting facets of K-12 public education for School News Network since 2013. Read Erin's full bio or email Erin.

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