Change can be a good thing. If you ask Career Closet Executive Director Jean Cecil, it was also a necessity in 2013.
When she discovered earlier this year that a $75,000 annual contract with Santa Clara County would not be renewed, Cecil sprang into action to keep the organization – which has provided a week’s worth of free professional attire to women in need for more than 20 years – above water. The funds, she noted, covered a considerable chunk of Career Closet’s monthly operating costs of $35,000.
The result is an organization that now offers a two-tier service system to the 120-plus partner organizations – and referred individuals – they serve collectively.
The first tier is a free basic level of service that offers each individual one outfit – including shoes – to wear on job interviews and in the workplace.
The second tier – known as the Interview-Plus Level – offers recipients a package that includes a suit, slacks or skirt and three tops, in addition to shoes, makeup and other accessories, at a cost of $50 per person to partner organizations.
“We had to turn around and say, ‘Oh, by the way, starting Aug. 1, you’re going to have to start paying us $50 per person,’” said Cecil, who also reduced the organization’s hours in San Jose to four days per week. “It was a very hard thing to do.”
The organization closed its Foster City location in June after seeing more than a 50 percent dip in the number of underprivileged individuals it served – something Cecil partially attributed to poor public transportation access in the area.
Still, things are beginning to look up for the organization, which dressed 1,200 women in 2012. Cecil noted that Career Closet’s Work Experience Program remained intact and assisted 50 individuals last year. Participants can learn hands-on skills and workplace etiquette in the organization’s clothing boutique – which is open to the public and generates a significant portion of the organization’s revenue. As has always been the case, Cecil noted, each person is treated with respect and dignity – and without judgment.
“We approach individuals without judgment and try to create an environment where it’s safe for failure to take place,” said Cecil, who used the 2012 Town Crier Holiday Fund contribution to set up a computer lab available to Career Closet clients as they complete their GEDs or seek other educational advancement through Khan Academy.
The organization also extended its service to men in need and is now accepting donated workplace attire such as suits, slacks, dress shirts and ties. The program currently serves three to five men weekly. Overall, she added, the program is averaging between 135-145 men and women served per month this year.
For more information, visit careercloset.org.
Location: 43 East Gish Road, Suite 100, San Jose
Annual budget: $465,000
Staff: 2 full-time, 3 part-time employees; more than 100 volunteers
Mission statement: To provide individuals with business attire and work experience in a safe environment, helping them gain self-confidence and find their life goals.