Alison Vaughn is known for her work with Jacket for Jobs (JFJ) here in Detroit. It provides professional clothing, skills training and workplace etiquette preparation through Michigan Works for those looking for employment. Later this month, she is headed to the Middle East to represent the U.S. at the 10th World Islamic Economic Forum.
So, you might be thinking … just how does a local entrepreneur end up heading to Dubai to speak and sit on a panel with 17 leaders from around the world? This is even more interesting considering the topic, the “Rise of Women Entrepreneurs.” When we as typical Americans think of the Middle East and what we have heard and seen, the concept of female entrepreneurs might not be top of mind. But, when the forum begins later this month, Vaughn will be front and center as a panelist and presenter on a very visible and high-profile stage.
While she has enjoyed a great amount of success locally with JFJ, this honor came as a surprise to her. Speakers include bank presidents, CEOs, international journalists and other leaders. She was initially contacted earlier this year by event organizers and asked to be a featured participant.
“I recently appeared in Forbes Magazine as one of the Goldman Sachs scholars,” she said. “I think this may be where they heard of me and what I’m doing in Detroit.”
No stranger to the limelight, JFJ has been profiled on ABC’s The View, NBC’s Today Show and Oprah Winfrey’s O Magazine. So, it’s really no surprise she would catch the eye of business leaders in another part of the world.
A former flight attendant for United Airlines, Vaughn has grown Jacket for Jobs into a real change agent for metro Detroit job seekers. Since March 2000, she says her organization has helped train and outfit more than 16,000 people. Of those helped, about 72% end up finding employment.
Now she has the opportunity to showcase JFJ, the city of Detroit and the growth taking place in our region. All eyes seem to be on Detroit and this puts us in a positive light on a global scale. The forum, which runs October 28 through the 30, is a big deal for the Islamic business world.
Although she is not a Muslim (she is a Christian), Vaughn is mindful of protocol as she heads to this area of the world. JFJ advises job seekers on appropriate professional wear for the workplace. Now, she is taking great care to make sure what she wears “gets the job done” and doesn’t distract from what she wants to communicate.
“I really want to make sure to dot all of the “I’s” and cross all of the “T’s” in representing America and women entrepreneurs,” Vaughn said. “I’ve spent a lot of time preparing and want to be appropriate for where I am going.” Getting ready, she got a little help from several merchants in Dearborn to pick out traditional dress for the occasion.
One of the other big questions is, “What about safety?” I asked if she has concerns, traveling to an area of the world that has experienced its share of turmoil and unrest.
“I am aware of what is going in the nearby region, but I’m not concerned,” she said.
Making an appearance at the global forum may open up doors to expand even beyond what she has on the drawing board.
She has plans to expand into other cities across the state and to areas where large groups of underserved people need help across the country. Expansion to Flint in 2015 and then Saginaw and Benton Harbor after that are in line in the not-so-distant future.
“I have a pretty aggressive vision for growth,” she said. “That is one of the benefits I took out of participating in the Goldman Sachs 10K Business Program … planning and execution for a big future.”
JFJ recently moved its flagship support location from downtown to Northwest Detroit on West Outer Drive near the Southfield Freeway. The new space looks like a typical retail outlet, full of suits, shoes and accessories. But it is so much more. It gives folks everything they need from head to toe to make a good impression in an interview.
Clothier T.J. Maxx has been a huge supporter of JFJ since 2007. Along with help from Men’s Warehouse and in-kind support from other companies and individuals, the organization has been able to sustain and grow its reach.
“We get the majority of our funding from the Detroit Employment Solutions Corporation, through the U.S. Department of Labor,” Vaughn said. “Since the need is so great for the unemployed, we are always looking for more volunteers, support and in-kind help from the community and corporate partners.”
In addition to their Northwest Detroit location, JFJ also has an office at Detroit Community High School. Students can go to the JFJ clothes closet, learn about etiquette and even get a free prom dress in the spring, thanks to donations.
Anyone interested in helping Jacket for Jobs or learning more about Allison’s work in the community can call 313-579-9160 or visit the website at jhttp://www.jacketsforjobs.org.