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Jerri Rosen, Founder and CEO Working Wardrobes

Jerri Rosen, Founder and CEO Working Wardrobes

Unimaginable, overwhelming, fateful, crisis—if you’ve been regularly reading the Leader Boards the last several months, these are some of the first words you’ve seen.

They accurately depict what is happening in Orange County.

While unemployment has dropped, there were still 91,200 unemployed men and women in Orange County as of May, the most recent month available. By contrast, in the same month in pre-pandemic 2019, only 38,600 were unemployed.

While we see wonderful signs of growth, we have found a major problem: unemployed women. They are struggling with the demands of family and jobs.

The Adapting 

Our nonprofit, Working Wardrobes, was not immune from the effects of the pandemic. We had to lay off 26 staff members in March 2020; now, we are back to full capacity. Our revenue was adversely affected because events were canceled, and the four stores had lengthy closures.

Despite the issues we faced, we didn’t stop.

We developed our online Rebuilding Careers initiative as a direct result of the pandemic.

Along with our core activities—including job preparation, soft skills workshops, wardrobing, hiring events and technology training—we have strengthened the program in several ways. We now offer a hybrid of online and in-person services to maximize convenience and safety for our clients.

We also expanded our Critical Needs Assistance Fund to help with food, housing, utilities and other expenses.

We successfully provided our services to unemployed and underemployed individuals—virtually all of whom have been impacted by the pandemic. In 2019, we served 4,700 clients compared to 2,955 in 2020.

In 2020, clients received 9,393 units of service through our services, including:

• VetNet, a Safety Net for Veterans program designed to meet the unique needs of veterans and veteran spouses as they transition into the civilian workforce.

• The Re-entry to Success Program for incarcerated individuals preparing to return into mainstream society.

• The Senior Community Service Employment Program providing low-income seniors with job opportunities in the nonprofit sector and local government.

• Veteran Behavioral Health Peer Support Services collaborative linking veterans to behavioral health and housing resources.

Through our Rebuilding Careers activities, we conducted 78 online career skills workshops for 1,472 attendees.

Helping People Get Back to Work

I founded Working Wardrobes in 1991 to provide the tools that will get people back to work. Many generous Orange County business leaders have partnered with us—providing time, resources, and funding to help more than 110,000 men, women, veterans, homeless and at-risk adults return to the workforce.

The face of our unemployed has changed.

Prior to COVID-19, we worked with clients who left the workforce due to illness, domestic violence, those transitioning back after military service or incarceration, seniors re-entering the workforce, and individuals leaving to care for loved ones.

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We see a disproportionate number of women from our professional community that either lost jobs or left jobs during COVID to care for their kids and now cannot find work. Many women want to work in other industries and need training to do so.

As a result, they face unprecedented financial hardships and are in critical need of individualized and comprehensive services to help them return to work, and Working Wardrobes is uniquely positioned to meet this urgent issue.

We used to have 10 participants per workshop; now we see 30-40 people.

Demoralized

We hear from women across Orange County who are demoralized by the lack of opportunities. They once held positions within the marketing, retail/hospitality, tech and manufacturing industries.

We will not give up, and we do not want these women to give up either.

Here’s one recent pandemic success story: Jill came to Working Wardrobes through a friend. She hadn’t heard about our services since she was never in need and had a steady job. However, she was laid off from her customer service position due to the pandemic and started thinking about changing careers. She was recently divorced and supporting her college-aged daughter for the first time.

We suggested our weekly Rebuilding Careers Virtual Workshops, and she attended workshops on skill-building and workforce readiness.

Jill also met one-on-one virtually with one of our career coaches for resume assistance and practice interviews. She wanted to tackle the job search. She did not want to wait it out and “collect unemployment.”

She was thrilled when she came in for her success suit. Working Wardrobes outfits each client with business attire and accessories to help complete their workforce-ready transformation.

Soon after, Jill landed a job at an up-and-coming tech company.

Here’s what she wrote to us:

“I am really grateful to Working Wardrobes for the workshops, mock interviews, reviewing my résumé, and receiving the outfit I wore on my interview. Working Wardrobes is more than teaching skills. The team encouraged and cheered me on during the whole process, which is something I needed. I want to thank the staff and volunteers for their support in making a difference in my life, and it truly is something that will never be forgotten.”

Balancing Job and Family

Many other women are like Jill. They face challenges of balancing the job and family.

This struggle exists because most of the available job positions do not offer child-care allowances or coverage, or remote work is not permitted.

Southern California employers must shore up childcare infrastructure and establish more flexible work-family policies going forward.

These women need opportunities. Our companies can do better.

At Working Wardrobes, our motto is “The Power of a Paycheck.”

It is unacceptable that these challenges exist in our community, our country, affecting so many women. We cannot let our women trudge through the job market with their heads down. We must help them earn living wages to live safely, securely with their dignity restored. Orange County has a lot of powerful business leaders that can impact change.

We continue to focus on the significant challenges that women face who have left the workforce. Our flexibility is critical as we find new ways to serve more clients and also find new ways to raise important revenue.

Editor’s Note: Jerri Rosen is the founder and CEO of Working Wardrobes, which reported a $6.3 million budget for the fiscal year ended June 30, 2020. Last year, a fire destroyed its Irvine headquarters. Within six months, it rebuilt its Career Success Center and Donation Center. Rosen plans to retire at the end of this year. 

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