Disability World
A bimonthly web-zine of international disability news and views, Issue no. 7 March-April 2001

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Independent Living Center Helps Job-Seekers "Dress for Success" in Dallas, Texas

By Charlotte Stewart, REACH of Dallas Resource Center on Independent Living 2000, provided by ILRU

REACH of Dallas is a project of REACH Inc., a community-based North Texas nonprofit corporation with the mission of providing services to people with disabilities and education to the community. REACH also operates the REACH Resource Center on Independent Living in Fort Worth and the REACH of Denton Resource Center on Independent Living. REACH stands for Rehabilitation, Education and Advocacy for Citizens with Disabilities (formerly Handicaps).

Comprehensive pre-employment training
For many years our employment services program has served people with disabilities by helping to prepare them for work with pre-employment training, including how to complete an application, develop an effective resume, practice interviewing skills, and conduct a successful job search. We have maintained a computer lab designed for consumers to practice, enhance and maintain their computer skills. The employment services program also assists with placement by maintaining a job bank, connecting with employers through the Internet, and networking with employers to ascertain their needs that can be matched with the determined, capable and dependable consumers in our program.

The all-important interview
After all the groundwork has been laid, the consumer's interview with a potential employer is the final step, and usually the most important one, in obtaining a job. The face-to-face impression one makes on the employer is often crucial. When considering this fact about three years ago, our employment program staff realized a significant void in their employment services process. Many of the people we served who were out of work but looking for jobs did not have, and could not afford to buy, suitable professional clothing for the all-important job interview. The "dress for success" element was lacking.

Professional Clothing Closet
Out of this thinking grew the Professional Clothing Closet.

Our employment program staff had decided to "get the word out" that we were looking for donations of used, but professional clothing suitable for the job interview or first days on the job before the first paycheck. They designed catchy flyers stating our need for professional clothing and distributed these to professionals & other agencies in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. They publicized the need for donations in the REACH newsletter. They contacted dry cleaners and asked for donations of clothing that had not been picked up within the 60-day grace period. They learned that all the branches of a prominent men's clothing store had a "bring in a suit to get a discount on a new one" program. They asked the clothing stores, with great success, to donate the old suits to the center's Clothing Closet. Thus, a supply of professional clothing for job interviews was built up in the Clothing Closet.

REACH of Dallas has a contract with the Texas Rehabilitation Commission and the Texas Commission for the Blind to provide employment services to their consumers. TRC counselors began referring consumers on a regular basis to the "Clothing Closet" and our employment program. In exchange for assisting their consumers, they or their associates, family, or friends would donate their used professional clothing to the Clothing Closet.

Support from other organizations
Word of mouth spread the news about the Clothing Closet. Other agencies like the Salvation Army's residential program began referring consumers. In fact, we had to set up some program limitations. Only three outfits could be selected during a one-time visit to the Clothing Closet. From its beginning, the Clothing Closet was for people looking for a job, or for those just employed.

Last year the Clothing Closet served 136 people with various disabilities.

No additional staff needed
The Clothing Closet has been maintained without the hiring of additional staff. We recruited volunteers to sort and hang donated clothing. The physical "closet" takes up very little space, a small, spare room we rearranged to accommodate hanging clothes. Expenditures for the Clothing Closet have been minimal--small costs for building clothing rods and shelves, adding a mirror, etc. The clothing racks were built by a volunteer. The hangars were donated.

From its beginning the Clothing Closet was restricted to REACH employment program consumers. Providing professional clothing for job interviews has helped these consumers become employed. Needless-to-say, this has led the consumers to improve their self-image, achieve financial independence, and participate in community activities.

As far as we know, our Professional Clothing Closet program, which developed out of local need, is unique. The service we provide has enhanced REACH's goal of "empowering people with disabilities to take charge of their lives and participate actively in community life."

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