Way to work runs through closet Agency outfits poor job-seekers


The client was prepared for his first office job interview, except for one thing. He had no dress shoes to fit his size 10 1/2 feet.

That minor crisis in the Job Training Partnership Act office a couple of years ago led to Career Outfitters, a program that lends or gives clothes appropriate for interviews and office jobs to clients.

"At the time, we were going around asking everyone if they knew someone with big feet," said Trudy Chara, Carroll County's career center coordinator. "That's probably what started the idea, and it grew from there."

Soon after, JTPA employees began filling a cloakroom in the former school that houses their Westminster offices with suits, ties and dresses.

Now, where tiny mittens, boots and lunch boxes were once stored until recess, clients in the Welfare to Work and other job training programs can select comfortable outfits to start their careers.

Former factory workers often have only T-shirts and jeans in their wardrobes, leaving them nothing to wear when they land an office job, Ms. Chara said.

"We work with people that are pretty destitute," she said. "Some of them have a real difficult time putting together an outfit. And then, if they get the job, what are they going to do?"

In addition to the work-related outfits, Ms. Chara said she keeps a few Bugle Boy-type slacks, casual shirts and a prom dress on hand for the Maryland's Tomorrow students.

"Kids have real strong opinions about what they will and will not wear," she said. "And, I'd hate for a kid not to go to the prom because she didn't have a dress."

Career Outfitters will also lend clothes to students for concert uniforms or graduation, if the items are available, Ms. Chara said.

"We're different from a lot of other agencies," she said. "We try to figure out ways to make people eligible."

From the beginning, county employees have been among the program's biggest supporters, Ms. Chara said.

"My boss [Diane Massey, the county's job training administrator] started by looking in the back of people's shirts to see how big they were," she said with a laugh.

County clothiers, such as English American Tailoring, have supported the program. The Westminster tailoring firm recently donated several odd-sized suits to the closet, Ms. Chara said.

Finally, many former clients donate clothes after they are established in their jobs, she said.

"A lot of our clients think we've done them a favor, so donating clothes to the next person in need is a nice way to pay us back," Ms. Chara said. "One of our former clients donated her mother's clothes after she died."

As always, Career Outfitters primarily needs dress and office-style work clothes in women's sizes 16, 18 and larger, Ms. Chara said.

"I have a lot of trouble finding decent clothes in large sizes," she said. "I've been thinking about going around to Weight Watchers classes and asking people to donate their old clothes."

Information: 876-9556 or 848-1197.

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