AVON PARK – Bruce Kimball II is far from getting a degree and even further from being able to pay off his eventual college education.
But Kimball, 19, a freshman at South Florida State College, still has a need for dress clothes, suits and business attire for meetings and what he hopes will eventually be job interviews. At this point of his life, every cent counts.
To look sharp and stylistically in synch for whatever the circumstance, Kimball got a new dress-attire wardrobe and is now dressing for success.
In the summer of 2012, the Leadership Highlands class formed the college’s “Dress for Success Project,” a free, used-clothing program available to students without the financial means to buy new career-oriented clothing. Since then, the donations have been steadily coming in, but as each semester gets underway, more are always needed.
Located in a former classroom in Building B on the college campus, the “Dress for Success” room has donated clothing and accessory items for students, like Kimball, who need them for interviews or their first days at new jobs.
Aug. 12, Kimball visited the “Dress for Success” room and walked out with an almost-new black suit with vest, three dress shirts, a tie, shoes and belts. He even had SFSC Career Development Center Staff Assistant Pam Jessiman along with him for some fashion tips and suggestions.
“I would’ve probably been in here for hours if she (Jessiman) didn’t help,” Kimball said and smiled during another visit to the room Tuesday. “I think it’s amazing; I live in student housing and have grants and scholarships and wouldn’t have the money to buy nice clothes. But I sure found some here. It makes you feel more successful, like you’re doing something with purpose.”
Colleen Rafatti, SFSC Career Development Center director, said “Dress for Success” began in a small office in Building B, but was moved into a redesigned classroom “boutique.” She said the first items were donated by members of Leadership Highlands, a leadership development organization, before e-mails were sent to campus faculty, staff and groups such as the Heartland Association of Realtors.
“We got enough that way to initially start with,” she said. “Then, we had a lot of private individuals from the community that began to bring clothes in.”
In addition to clothing, Rafatti, in her eighth year at SFSC, said items that help present the clothes are also needed, such as hangars, dry-cleaning bags and credit, tags and shoe racks.
Volunteers are needed to help process donations by taking clothes home to wash, iron or dry clean; organizing the closet; or helping students with clothing selections.
To get access to “Dress for Success,” students must have “demonstrated financial need,” such as financial aid, or they need to be referred by a program director or teacher; Rafatti said about 70 percent of SFSC students get some form of financial aid.
The students then set up an appointment, are taken to the room and have a one-on-one shopping experience with a Career Development Center staff member, such as Jessiman, who said with students she visits the “Dress for Success” room about three times per week.
“They’re all very appreciative, excited and encouraged there. There is a nice selection. It’s all due to our community and we continuously get donations, very nice ones,” she said.
In addition to what’s on racks, students can also submit requests for particular items, such as short-sleeved dress shirts or business-casual shorts.
The program has also spread from the SFSC campus. In August, a partnership was formed with Career Source Heartland Veterans Division, and in summer 2013 with the women’s Peace River Center Victim Services, a domestic violence and sexual assault shelter based in Lakeland, serving Highlands, Polk and Hardee counties. From there, the two groups exchange referrals and clothing.
“This works out for both because it’s a challenge for them (students and victim services clients) to have the types of clothing needed for job interviews and have business clothes needed for new employment,” said Sherrie Schwab, Victim Services director.
Although the “Dress for Success” room has plenty of items, more are always welcomed. Clothing and accessories that can’t be used such as T-shirts and sports clothes are in turn donated to area charities like the Salvation Army or Goodwill.
“The biggest challenge is getting the word out and for the students to overcome their reluctance to use the service,” said Rafatti.
Currently, among items “Dress for Success” is looking for are donations of men’s suits, jackets; ladies’ suits, dresses, blouses, skirts; men’s and women’s dress and “docker-style” slacks; dress shirts and “Polo” shirts; ties, scarves, belts, purses, briefcases and portfolios; hospital scrubs and lab coats; and work-appropriate shoes. Staff is also seeking irons, ironing boards, steamers, sewing machines, hampers, clothing racks, mannequins, hangars and other project maintenance items.
For information or to arrange a pick-up, call (863) 784-7410 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.