No bottom to the efforts of the bottomless closet

Note from the Editors: In each of the succeeding issues of The Catalyst, we hope to profile a not-for-profit organization worthy of the attention, and contribution, of all of us. The first of this series, The Bottomless Closet, is an organization that the Special Committee on Women and the Law has been supporting, with donations of time, money and clothing, for some time. We hope you find it worthy of support as well.

Located at 445 N. Wells in Chicago, and online at <www.bottomlesscloset.org>, the Bottomless Closet is a not-for-profit organization whose mission is “to provide professional clothing, job readiness, and post-employment training and coaching services to women on assistance and working-poor women, enabling them to add value to the organizations that hire them while empowering them to craft a new vision for their lives.” As explained on its Web site, the Bottomless Closet was founded in 1991, the inspiration of four women who were moved by a story they heard on a local radio station. In the radio program, Lynda Wright, a young mother, expressed her frustration at the difficulty she was having trying to get off of welfare and into the job market. Moved by her comment that she didn’t even have the right clothes to wear to job interviews, the four women (Laurel Baer, Donna Paulino, Ann Jenkins and Mary Ann Maloney) established Bottomless Closet.

Over the past 11 years, Bottomless Closet has served more than 12,000 women, 65 percent of whom gained employment as a result of such assistance. The women served do not just need a job; they need to develop the confidence they need to successfully compete in the job market, and they need the skills necessary to keep a job. The Bottomless Closet helps with all of that. They provide professional development through workshops such as skills identification and communication, confidence building, proper office conduct, basic clothing care, etc. Additionally, each client is provided, free of charge, two suits to interview in and, once hired, the client is provided with an additional three suits.

The Bottomless Closet claims that for each woman who achieves economic self-sufficiency, the taxpayers save more than $7,000 a year. Further, it cites Chicago Urban League statistics as proof that women who complete the Bottomless Closet program earn an average of $2 more per hour than other women who go straight from public assistance to work. The organization has been so successful that it has been featured on ABC News, the Today Show, the Chicago Tribune, the Chicago Sun-Times and various print media around the country. A recognized leader in boosting the self- esteem of working-poor women, organizations across the country have begun to implement similar programs.

The program faces serious challenges this fiscal year, given the impact of welfare reform and the Illinois budget deficit. These challenges are increasing the numbers of women in need and decreasing the funds of the agencies with whom the Bottomless Closet had typically partnered. The organization has made a plea for help from our Committee, and we invite all of our readers to accept the challenge. The organization’s Web site is replete with testimonials from women who have been served and are thankful for the opportunities the organization has made possible for them. The organization needs help in the following ways:

Spread the word. Tell your friends and associates. Tell those you know who might benefit from this incredible organization.

Sponsor a fundraiser. A recent fundraiser held by Comptroller Dan Hynes netted this thank you note from a happy recipient: “They give us a sense of hope where there really looked like there was no hope or way out of the environment we were in…I can finally feel good about myself and it makes for a promising future for me as well as my children.”

Give clothes. The Bottomless Closet accepts “gently used professional attire on hangers” and accessories. The clothing donations are accepted on the second Saturday of each month from 9:00 a.m. until noon. Upcoming clothing donation dates are November 8, December 13, and January 10. Donations should be brought to BC’s headquarters at 445 North Wells, Suite 301, Chicago.

Volunteer. Bottomless Closet offers “unlimited opportunities to serve, grow and make a difference in the Chicagoland community.” The organization trains volunteers to work with clients to prepare them for the job search by helping with resume/interview preparation, communication skills, professional image development, etc. Volunteers can also help the clients “shop” for appropriate clothing and accessories and can help with the intake functions of accepting donations and managing the inventory.

Donate. Bottomless Closet would very much appreciate financial donations from those readers who feel motivated to contribute. A donation of $525 helps three women; $350 helps two women; $175 helps one woman. Donations are NOT used for administrative purposes. Administrative services are donated. Checks may be made out to Bottomless Closet and sent to 443 North Wells, Suite 301, Chicago, Illinois 60610. You can also, quite easily, donate online with a major credit card.

Bottomless Closet is located at 445 North Wells, Suite 301 Chicago, Illinois 60610. Upcoming clothing donation dates:

• November 8, 2003

• December 13, 2003

• January 10, 2004

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November 2003Volume 9Number 2PDF icon PDF version (for best printing)