Twenty-two years ago Jerri Rosen and five friends staged a one-day event to help survivors of domestic violence to get on their feet. Disturbed by the statistics on domestic violence, the group set out on a mission to help. The first-ever Day of Self-Esteem served as a life-changing experience for both organizers and clients and created a foundation to build Working Wardrobes into a thriving organization dedicated to helping clients achieve self-sufficiency.
Rosen, the founder and CEO of the organization, had read about a woman who had a store on the east coast that gave people clothes to make them look good for their court appearances. She reasoned that “when you present yourself professionally, you get a chance to sell yourself.” She provided clothes that had been donated, along with professional hair and makeup, for the women to help them have the confidence to get jobs.
With a background in marketing and advertising, Rosen started an advertising agency at the same time as she started Working Wardrobes. The latter became all-encompassing, although Rosen “didn’t plan to become a non-profit CEO.” As she explained, “It’s profoundly moving to help people change their lives. Now 3,000 volunteers work with us each year. We couldn’t do it without them.”
From serving 67 female clients out of her garage 22 years ago, Rosen has taken Working Wardrobes to an organization that serves 5,000 clients a year with career training, job placement assistance and wardrobe services in an environment of dignity and respect. The organization empowers men, women, young adults and veterans overcoming difficult challenges to confidently enter the workforce and achieve self-sufficiency.
Clients come from a wide spectrum of backgrounds, including Welfare-to-Work, alcohol and substance abuse, domestic violence, transitional homelessness, emancipated youth and adults making the transition from military to civilian life. Pictures of their success stories – before and after photos of real people – adorn the walls of the large facility in Costa Mesa, which serves as a showroom, warehouse, training facility and office.
“It’s scary to go out and look for a job,” Rosen said. “We arm people for confidence in a success suit. The best phone call is from a client who calls to say that she or she got the job because of being well-dressed. The reality is that the person in the suit got the job.”
Working Wardrobes has personal shoppers to assist clients with choosing and matching appropriate clothes to gain and sustain employment. These personal shoppers even wrap those clothes in tissue paper like a fine department store to give the clients a sense of dignity and respect. The organizaion has found many more ways “to never say no.” It has expanded its career development programs, offering a full curriculum, customer service training and financial literacy training. “Even if people have jobs, they come back and continue to grow,” Rosen said.
The organization serves people in Orange County, Long Beach, Los Angeles and the Inland Empire. It has helped victims of Hurricane Katrina and the San Diego fires.
Rosen, who said her entrepreneurial spirit is in her DNA from her father, who was in the music business, is very particular about the kind of clothing she accepts and the kind of people she hires or takes on as volunteers. She only wants donated clothing that is clean, in great condition and on hangers for the Costa Mesa facility, where clients come to be outfitted. The clothing is displayed elegantly, with blouses or shirts and ties matched with suits.
Clothing that does not make the cut goes into thrift shops operated by Working Wardrobes. Rosen is proud that those clothes have been converted into cash, helping to sustain the organization.
A recent development obviously touches Rosen’s heart strings. “Veterans have given everything for their country and are coming back to an economy that’s not strong,” she said. Working Wardrobes, in conjunction with corporations, community based organizations, political partners and a cadre of volunteers is developing the program enhancements to its current career success services that will provide a safety net for returning veterans. Through a federal Department of Labor grant, VetNet will help 100 vets per year to get job training, job placement and housing.
Rosen also takes pride in the fact that people from all walks of life come to tour Working Wardrobes. “It busts the myth that there is no need for an organization like ours in affluent Orange County,” she said. “Who would have thought 22 years ago that the biggest four-letter word would be ‘jobs?’” Contact Working Wardrobes at (714) 210-2460 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
September 13, 2012
Working Wardrobes Career Center, Costa Mesa
October 7, 2012
Los Amigos High School,
November 1, 2012
Deborah Van Huis
Working Wardrobes Career Center, Costa Mesa
Baubles & Bags Brunch
November 4, 2012
Nixon Library, Yorba Linda