Durham women's mission -- to help unemployed, underemployed

Oct. 07, 2013 @ 08:17 AM

Things don’t happen by chance, said Kaleena Rozier, 29.

She had been praying for help, she said, and it came in the form of Melinda Bernard, 26.

Rozier works for the City of Durham Office of Economic and Workforce Development program with a job assistance program for ex-offenders. She said she helps men and women with their resumes, interviews and job searches.

Through her work, she said she saw a need for a single organization that could help unemployed and underemployed men get professional clothing – suits, dress shirts, slacks and shoes.

Such a thing exists for women, but Rozier said there is a need for such a program that specifically serves men. She said she had been praying for help in launching the organization, but didn’t know where it would come from.

“(When) you pray about something, you never know what God will send you,” she said.

Bernard had come to see her for a one-on-one session. She was released from federal prison in November of last year after serving time for a wire and mail fraud conviction. Rozier said in the session, Bernard told her she was business-savvy.

“I saw a fire in her that shows that she’s ready to move on from her background into something positive,” Rozier said. “We found common ground. I wanted to help someone; she wanted to better her life.”

Bernard said she had wanted to start her own business. She said that prior to her conviction, she experienced a change and wanted to change her life. And now she said she is conscious of time, and has a different mindset.

“Time is respectful of no one, and you can’t get it back,” she said. “I need to take time seriously. I wasted time doing too much nonsensw. I’m done with that.”

After Bernard was no longer her client, the two started working to launch the nonprofit, which they’re calling Suit & Tie Career Readiness. Their vision is of an organization that can help men get the professional clothing they need, and that would also offer career readiness training.

They have a budget, and are both contributing their own money,. Both continue to work -- Rozier for the city program, and Bernard for a car wash business in Durham.

They are still working to get the basics of the organization together. They are collecting clothing and need space to store it, and a place where they could make it accessible to men who need it.

They’re planning to hold a charity suit drive to collect men’s suits and other professional clothing items Oct. 19 from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., and Oct. 20 from noon to 6 p.m. at the Kroger at 202 N.C. 54. In addition, they’re taking donations at H&S Cleaners at 105 W. N.C. 54, Suite 201, in Durham.

Rozier said that through the program, they want to help the men they serve get a positive self-image, and to help them provide their families.

“They want to feel like they are the man, the leader in their families,” she said. “You can have all the steps, but at the end of the day, people judge you on your appearance,” she added.

Bernard said they also believe that they can have a broader effect in the community.

“Oftentimes, (people) get discouraged and go back to the ways they knew before – street life,” she said. “And street life always produces violence. It’s like that cycle effect.”

There is a local organization that provides professional clothing for women. Called Dress for Success Triangle, the organization was founded to serve disadvantaged women who are trying to enter the workforce, said Denise Torain, central operations manager for Dress for Success Triangle.

Torain said they probably get two or three calls a week asking if they accept men’s clothing.

In Durham, the faith-based nonprofit Durham Rescue Mission provides shelter and other services for men and women to help free them from addiction, offers clothing to men and women in its program, and sells a range of clothing in its thrift stores.

But Tony Gooch, director of development operations, said he believes there is a need for an organization that specifically provides work clothing for men in need.

“I’m sure there’s a need for it,” he said. “If there’s someone out there who’s providing clothes for them to dress and get a job, I think it’s great,” he added.