Jayla Pitts was in third grade when she decided she wanted to make a difference in people’s lives. It was Martin Luther King Day, generally known as a day of service, and Jayla was volunteering with her parents and brother at a shelter.
She was taken aback by the number of necessities that were available for those less fortunate, but in the midst of that abundance, she noticed one thing that was missing.
“Women probably wanted makeup and perfume and lotion,” 9-year-old Jayla said. “So I said, ‘You know what? Why not? I’m going to give it to them.’ That’s how it started.”
The idea of providing cosmetic and toiletry products for women in shelters gave birth to what is now known as Project Beautiful.
The outreach initiative started by the young Montclair resident, now a fourth grader at Montclair Kimberley Academy, has raised thousands of dollars since 2021, money that goes directly into providing such items as perfumes, body washes and lip products for homeless women.
Jayla’s mother, Raina Pitts, said her daughter has always had a generous spirit, whether it was helping around the house with her younger sibling or being warm and welcoming to her fellow classmates.
However, when Jayla approached her Mom about the idea for Project Beautiful, she said she was taken aback.
“I’ll never forget when she came to me with the idea like she was describing, it was almost like a shopping center of sorts,” her mother said.
Initially, Jayla reached out to family members for donations, but eventually friends of her parents wanted to contribute to the cause. Last year, she received more than $7,000 in donations and delivered 300 gift bags on Valentine’s Day to five different shelters.
“I’ve always been about helping, but I wanted to do something really big,” Jayla said. “I was really happy when I got to help people. I didn’t get to see the women, but I imagine what their faces were like. They will have a nice smile on their faces.”
For Raina Pitts and her husband, it was always important to have their children involved in the community and aware of the privileges that some people may or may not have. Jayla was always receptive to the challenges that those around them may face, Pitts said.
This year, Project Beautiful will be supporting 450 women and girls in various shelters throughout North Jersey, including the Montclair organizations Cornerstone House of the Salvation Army, Brave House and Family Promise.
Project Beautiful is also branching out from its usual target group of women and partnering with Covenant House to provide “Beautiful Bags” to 25 young men.
Jayla already has a plan for the long-term future of Project Beautiful. She hopes that moving forward she can line up more sponsorships, like the ones she has with Jones Road Beauty, a makeup company located on Walnut Street, and Unilever, the parent company of Dove and Axe. Both Jones Road Beauty and Unilever donated items to Project Beautiful for her upcoming drive.
In addition, Jayla raised $10,000 to make sure that women and young girls in the shelters can all receive bags.
With March being Women’s History Month, Project Beautiful will be partnering with the primary school of Montclair Kimberley Academy to raise donations for the shelters.
Jayla shared the idea of a partnership with her faculty adviser, who was more than willing to give her the platform to share the mission of Project Beautiful.
“I had flyers and I handed it out to everyone,” she said. “Basically, I handed it out to staff, friends. I did my soccer team. I did it everywhere, so everyone will know about it.”
As she continues to help those around her, Jayla wants people of all ages to know that giving back doesn’t have to be hard.
“Just little things count,” she said. “You might not think it makes a big difference, but it will in someone’s life.”
Project Beautiful welcomes donations such as new and unopened lotions, soaps, hair products, perfumes, sunscreen, feminine products, oral hygiene products and more. Donations can be sent to Project Beautiful at The UPS Store 2245, 41 Watchung Plaza, Montclair, NJ 07042. Monetary donations can be sent via Venmo at the handle
For more information on Project Beautiful, visit its Instagram page, @ProjectBeautiful_Service.