polo collar stays Used clothing from YWCA helps women get jobs
When Rachel Shirey was called to interview for a job with Greensburg call center Xentel, she quickly made an appointment with Dorie Fuchs, coordinator of a YWCA business attire program.
After Shirey was hired, Fuchs helped her pick out a wardrobe for her first week on her new job.
“When I walked out of there I was very excited,” she said. “I wouldn’t have had anything to wear the next day, my first day of work. I went from jeans and T shirts to business looking types of things.”
Shirey, 22, a single mother from New Stanton, said she had shopped at the YWCA Thrift Shop in Greensburg, particularly for play clothes for her two children. She was unaware the YWCA PA Workwear resource for working women existed until she was referred by the Private Industry Council of Westmoreland Fayette Inc.
That agency is one of several that send qualified female job hunters and those newly employed to the YWCA program.
Last summer the state Department of Public Welfare requested the YWCA expand its existing Working Women’s Closet to include women countywide in welfare and job training programs.
Under the former state program, women were provided vouchers to purchase their own clothing, said Linda Blanchette, deputy secretary for income management for the state Department of Public Welfare.
“One of the pieces missing for us was whether or not they were getting the clothing they really needed,” Blanchette said. “One of the benefits to the Commonwealth is we know our participants are getting the guidance they need to select clothing appropriate for their jobs.”
A personal shopper of sorts, Fuchs helps the women select flattering clothing, and suggests accessories including jewelry and purses.
The partnership also allows administration of the program at a lower cost, because most Workwear partners receive clothing donations. The program has been established in 56 counties so far, Blanchette said. Each partner’s annual budget and expected number of clients determine the state’s financial contribution.
Women approved for participation are provided interview clothing and a week’s wardrobe after securing employment.
The expansion has stretched the program’s resources, Fuchs said. Donations of business attire (suits, blazers), white blouses, button down shirts, khaki and black slacks, polo shirts, socks, stockings, shoes (casual and dress) and purses are needed.
Some women might require nonskid shoes or steel toed work boots, or cold weather gear if they will be doing outdoor work.
Especially sought are scrubs, as many unemployed women are training for careers in health care.
“Personal care homes are biggies,” said thrift store director Cathy Young.
The Working Women’s Closet existed for at least 10 years, Young said, before partnering with the state.
“Now we are countywide,” Young said. “Before it was just local women.”
“I have a lot of women coming from New Kensington and Apollo,” Fuchs said.
As many as 30 women a month may be referred to the program, Fuchs said. She typically dresses 20 or more. Some women are no shows, or have transportation problems.
It’s not always an easy sell, she admitted. Some women resist shopping from a selection of used clothing.
“Let me tell you something,” Young said, nodding at Fuchs, “we’re all sitting here in used clothing.”
“They don’t get dressed here, they don’t get dressed,” Young said.
“A lot of them look around and they are amazed at what they can buy. They can’t believe what quality they can get for the amount of money,” Fuchs said. “They come back to shop for themselves and their kids.”
Some participants later drop off clothing of their own, in an effort to help other women.
“So they do give back,” Young said.
Seeing women emerge from the dressing room with smiles on their faces is Fuchs’ reward.
What she seldom learns is the women’s fate after they collect their new wardrobe and begin their new jobs.