Guest Blogger: Emily Strong

Defining Looks

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Can clothes make you feel powerful?

 

Whether we realize it or not, we always select our clothes with an agenda. Whether it's as simple as a desire to look professional or to blend in with the crowd, we all understand on a basic level what we want to project to the world and how to use clothes to do that. For a long time I selected clothes primarily to look pretty, or failing that, to not be seen at all. Those style choices felt safe, because my clothes didn't have a strong perspective. When your clothes have something to say, you are telling the world that you do, too.

 

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When I tried on this outfit from Gladiola Girls, it was obvious each individual piece had something to say. The Spanish-made, vintage red boots from Gladiola's Vintage room directly evoke Victorian footwear. The geometric jewelry by Lexington artist Tara Werner is both 70s-inspired and almost futuristically abstract. These items were selected to complement one of my favorite pieces from my own closet, an embroidered leather jacket by Romeo + Juliet Couture, and the effect when put together is striking. The flowers on the jeans echoing the flowers on the jacket. The mixture of tough leather and denim with the delicate blouse trimmed in eyelash lace by FRNCH. The delicate items becoming bold and powerful by association.

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What does it mean to call back to the past? Can that alone be a powerful thing?

 

While these pieces reference different eras, they all echo defining looks from those eras. They stand out from the crowd together.

Style is aspirational, always aiming for an ideal of how you want to be seen and the person that you want to be. The selection of clothes at Gladiola Girls surprise me with what they have to say and inspire me to continue defining my own style.

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Gladiola Honors "Year of Gladness" Recipient, Beth McClain

Beth McClain and Her Blessings Barn

Come for Clothes, Leave with Love  

Written By Chloe Ekberg

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It wasn’t a typical afternoon for Beth McClain as we sat down together for her Year of Gladness interview. We spent the day picking out outfits at Gladiola Lifestyle Boutique and taking pictures outside of Beth’s home and her famous “Blessings Barn,” but Miss Beth’s change in routine did not go unnoticed. When Beth got a ride to the store from her friend, she left her car at home—causing a stir in the neighborhood. It was the first time her car was in the driveway and she did not answer the doorbell on the first ring to help neighbors fill their bags with clothes from the Blessings Barn or just catch up and say hello.

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Beth’s Blessing Barn is a well-run operation fueled by Beth McClain in her home. It serves as a place where Beth stores all of her donations so her neighbors can get anything from a winter jacket to toilet paper—but for Beth, the barn was the beginning of years spent investing in others and connecting across differences to form deep-rooted bonds that she refers to as her blessings.

New Beginnings

Beth moved to Lynchburg from Des Moines, Iowa in 2010, three years after her husband died to be near her children and grandchildren. She has lived alone in her house ever since—touching the lives of many through her dedication to fostering unity and love in her neighborhood.

“This is what I was called to do, they need me here and I need them,” Beth says, referring to her neighbors and the Blessings Barn.

While Beth is now considered to be a local celebrity on her street—waving and calling each one of her neighbors by name between pictures for our shoot, she admits things weren’t always the way they are today.

When Beth first moved into her house, her friends and family raised concerns over her being the only widowed white woman living alone in the neighborhood, so her son went next door to tell the neighbor to keep an eye out for her.

“Every time I’d go outside he’d come up to me and ask ‘are you okay,’ and I’d say I’m fine. I knew he was just doing his job,” Beth says.  

Beth then recalled the first time she and her neighbor really made a connection that would change the rest of her life.

“One day I was watching my neighbor from the window by my kitchen sink, collecting beer cans, and I decided to just go out and say, hi.  That’s when my neighbor’s son-in-law looked at me and said, ‘I’m surprised you’re even talking to us.’”

Beth smiled at me as she continued to reminisce on that moment.

“And I looked at him and said, ‘well, why not?’ Just because our skin is a different color doesn’t mean we are not the same on the inside. That’s when my neighbor looked me in the eyes and said, ‘You’re going to be okay here, and I’m going to tell everyone that you are okay.’”

That was the beginning. The woman once viewed by the neighbors as a “plant” or a “snitch” (who many believed moved to the neighborhood to report illegal activity) became an essential aspect of the community and a friend to all.

“I just knew that if I was going to live here with all of this different culture and everything, I had to be friendly. I had to let people know that I am not above them. So, that’s what I did. I just loved them,” Beth said.

How the Blessings Barn Began

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At around the same time that Beth was getting to know her new neighbors she was attending Cathy and Garland Hoare's Sunday school at Thomas Road Baptist Church. After her Sunday school group finished a book, they gathered around to decide on an outreach project. Beth knew her neighbor across the street at the time who didn’t have much. Beth told her group, “I know someone we can help!”

Beth and her Sunday school class gathered up a van full of clothes, food, and other essentials and gave them all to her neighbor.

The next time Beth’s Sunday school group had to come up with an outreach project Beth had another family she had grown close to in her neighborhood in mind.

 From then on it became clear that this would turn into a much larger scale commitment for Beth than helping one or two families. In fact, Beth’s home became a rotating storage unit—with items constantly going in and out of her house to be donated to local families whom she had gotten to know.

 As Beth’s commitment to helping the families around her grew, Gerry and Cathy Kimble and her Sunday school class decided to surprise her with an outside shed—which she later named “Beth’s Blessings Barn.”

 “I call it Beth’s Blessings Barn because it looks like a barn and I was blessed to have so many people donating to the barn—and all the people around here get blessings. People can come any time. All they have to do is knock on my door.”

A Day in The Life of Beth McClain

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 On an average day, Beth can be found on her front porch, lifting bags of donations and sorting them in her living room before they are moved to the Blessings Barn. Beth jokes that she has gotten stronger over the years both inside and out taking on this project.

Beth’s friend Tina Markham notes, “Beth can lift bags better than anyone else. It’s a workout for certain.”

When Beth isn’t sorting through donations or planning her next outreach event at her home, she’s usually spending quality time with her neighbors. Whether it’s driving them to doctor’s appointments and grocery stores or just welcoming families into her home for coffee. Beth’s neighbors are her life. Beth even hosts a Bible study with the Hoare family from her church for anyone who does not have transportation to get to a church. Some weeks she will have around 20 people all sitting down in her living room.

“Beth has a special gift of bringing people together and loving them for who they are. It’s a gift that any neighborhood could benefit from,” says Tina Markham, a good friend from Beth’s church.

 Though people from all walks of life may come to the Blessings Barn for clothing, they leave with something much more meaningful because of the connections Beth has taken the time to make. Beth is a great reminder of the beauty that comes from seeing life from someone else’s perspective. If we, too, view others a little more like Beth does—the world would be a little "gladder".