Business, Giving Back

How a jacket can change a life

Clothes make the man (or woman), right? Well, Jackets for Jobs (JFJ) founder and CEO Alison Vaughn might argue that clothes can actually change a life.

The program, supported by a combination of corporate support, federal funding and cash donations (which they need more of) helps the displaced or unemployed get ready to enter the workforce by outfitting them from head to toe with suits, shirts, shoes, skirts – everything to make a good first impression in an interview.

Vaughn, who started Jackets for Jobs in 2000, describes the jobs process as a bit of a Catch 22. “In order to get a job, you have to have a suit, but in order to get a suit, you have to have a job to pay for it,” she said.

The referral-only program through Michigan Works, now services more than 1000 metro-area job seekers each month.  To qualify, applicants have to be a part of the state’s J.E.T. (Jobs, Education and Training) initiative.

Since 2007, T.J. Maxx has provided the majority of the clothes – swapping out the inventory four times each year. When you visit the JFJ Downtown Detroit facility, you could easily mistake it for one of the retailer’s stores. Everything from the racks, down to the red doors on the dressing rooms is modeled after one of the retailer’s locations. Of all the clothes provided by the retailer, about 75% of the items are for women.

Men’s and women’s business attire, shoes and business-casual items fill the downtown location, one of two servicing Metro Detroit. Men’s Warehouse also provides items to help jobseekers, filling the gap for gentlemen’s clothing, as well as holding an annual suit drive. The drive benefits programs like JFJ across the country.  Through this kind of support, those receiving help will probably, “like the way they look,” as store founder and CEO, George Zimmer would say in his commercials.

While they have these two corporate angels and federal funds supporting the organization’s work currently, there is still a big need for support from the general public. As many organizations have discovered, when it comes to funding, nothing is guaranteed.

In addition to the external job preparation process (with suits and dresses), JFJ also trains applicants on what to do once they get that all-important interview.  Grooming, etiquette and other tips like covering up those tattoos, remembering  thank you notes and how to greet an interviewer are all a part of the preparation process.

Vaughn says when people hear about Jackets for Jobs they have one of two questions: “How can I receive a suit?” and “How can I help?” She stresses they are always looking for volunteers and donations and encourages both – making sure the organization can continue to help as the economy faces its challenges and federal support continues to dwindle.

To find out more about Jackets for Jobs, make a donation or volunteer, visit their website.

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