BY RUTH RICE
Lajanda Byrd of Johnstown is flying high as she starts her job with a new wardrobe.
Like many in the area, Byrd couldn’t afford to dress for success on her own, but because of Pa. Working Wardrobe, a new program offered through a partnership with the Cambria County Assistance Office and Goodwill Industries, she was able to pick out a week’s worth of clothing suitable for the workplace at no charge.
Byrd started her job in the human resources department at MetLife Financial Services in Richland Township last week and was the first client to take advantage of the newly implemented clothing program.
She was so impressed with her experience that she wrote a letter to Ann Torledsky, vice president of work-force development at Goodwill, and sent a thank-you note to Linda Quinn, employment specialist at Goodwill in charge of the program.
“I found out about the program after I had an interview and was hired,” Byrd said.
“I wasn’t going to go because I thought it would be demeaning.”
Byrd found out that going to Pa. Working Wardrobe was like having a personal shopper.
“Linda was so sweet and personable,” Byrd said.
“She called me the day before and asked what times were good for me and what sizes and colors I preferred.”
When Byrd came into the Goodwill offices at 540-542 Central Ave. in the Moxham section of Johnstown, Quinn had a selection of clothing ready for her.
“I received slacks, shirts, blouses and jewelry,” Byrd said. “These were new clothes with the tags on. I can mix or match different outfits.”
Byrd, who is 35, has four children and shops for them first.
“I was able to pick out a signature necklace for her that will go with every outfit,” Quinn said.
“Lajanda is mentioning this to everyone, and I’m getting more referrals. She is bubbly and excited and the reason why this program exists and why it will be a success.”
In her note to Quinn, Byrd said she had been given a change of attitude as well as a change of wardrobe.
“This wasn’t what I thought it would be,” she said. “It didn’t feel like charity. This gave me a good attitude for starting work.”
Pa. Working Wardrobe replaces a program at the county assistance office that offered clients $150 to buy new work clothes.
Appointments with Quinn are by referral from a county case worker only.
Clothes are available for job interviews and training as well as after the job is secured. Special uniforms, nonskid shoes and scrubs also are available.
Entering the space Quinn has created is like shopping in a boutique. Mirrors and pictures hang on the walls, and clothing is color-coordinated and arranged by size on racks. Women’s clothing – slacks, skirts, suits, dresses, blouses and other tops – takes up much of the space, but men have their share of suits, sport coats, slacks and shirts.
Going through the racks, Quinn picks out clothing that is new and used, with no discernible difference in quality.
“I think having things color-coordinated says ‘I value you,’ and having the used items dry cleaned says ‘I respect you,’ ” Quinn said.
“I ask them what colors they like because you have to like something to do well.”
Quinn spoke of the shining moment when a client who came in with her head down requesting dark clothes was transformed by a Liz Claiborne outfit in apricot.
“I picked out jewelry for her, and she said she had never seen anything so beautiful,” Quinn said.
“This is the unspoken reward. This is what life is about – to be excited about where you’re going. This is a twofold service. We see the immediate effect with the clothing, and we see them feel good about themselves.”
Quinn shops Goodwill stores for gently used clothing as well as her stylish decorations and has partnered with several local stores, where she receives a discount on new clothing.
Part of the clothing has been donated by the family of M. Rita Clark, a local politician who worked with many charitable organizations. She died in May.
“She was a woman’s advocate,” Quinn said. “I think she would be so glad to be a part of this.”
A wooden wardrobe Quinn painted blue houses scrubs, and a lighted tree branch has been fashioned into a jewelry tree.
Quinn hopes to have a scrubs drive at local hospitals and in-house clothing drives at the county assistance office and Southern Alleghenies Planning and Development Commission.
Purses, coats and gloves also are available.
“I have winter coats in storage,” Quinn said. “I sometimes think about taking over the first floor.”
A roomy dressing room provides privacy for clients to try out their new look.
Torledsky was instrumental in getting the program set up in Johnstown.
“The research and development department of the public welfare office in Harrisburg had a proposal and chose us to provide the wardrobe,” Torledsky said.
The wardrobe will save taxpayer dollars because the clothing is donated, she added.
“This is a state-instituted program, and we wanted to follow their model,” she said.
“The appointments are one at a time and are through the assistance office.
“Our goal is to promote and ensure their independence by providing professional clothing for job interviews and training. Everyone would love to have a personal shopper, and Linda puts them at ease.”
Quinn is hoping the program ignites a spark in those wanting to contribute clothing and have it put to a specific use.
Those wishing to donate good quality, gently used clothing can call Quinn at 536-3536, ext. 246.
“They need to talk to me,” she said. “They can’t leave bags of clothes here.”
To donate new or gently used clothing to Pa. Working Wardrobe, contact Linda Quinn at 536-3536, ext. 246.
BY RUTH RICE
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