Freshly showered, Jane Guerino stands in a terry cloth towel wrapped around her body, looking at the outfit set out in front of her.
A pair of dark-wash Levi’s jeans is nicely ironed and folded. Beside the jeans, a blouse hangs to avoid being wrinkled. A pair of flat dress shoes sits on the ground before her. On the counter, there is a pile of makeup, a bottle of perfume, jewelry and a silver watch, all perfectly arranged.
The air is cold, so Guerino quickly but carefully gets dressed. She mists a thin layer of perfume on her arms and grabs the over-the-shoulder purse that hangs in her room. She pulls on a heavy winter coat, gloves and a knit hat as she walks out of the door. Outside, she shivers, her hand clutching a resume.
The shaking is partly from the cold of winter, partly from nerves.
“When I got out of prison, I didn’t have anything,” Guerino said.
A survivor of addiction and human trafficking, who served time in prison, Guerino barely had any necessities after her release.
She needed to make an income, but with limited resources, she barely had clothing to wear daily, let alone the means to buy a professional outfit to interview for a working position.
Guerino was at a loss. How could she get a job if she didn’t have an outfit? How could she get an outfit if she didn’t have a job?
This seemingly dead-end situation Guerino faced is the same that hundreds of women also faced in the Lehigh Valley, until a determined woman named Linda Robbins noticed the problem and decided to do something about it.
Robbins realized there were women who didn’t have access to professional clothing and decided to serve women out of the trunk of her car. When she brought this idea to the attention of a few key community organizations, The Perfect Fit for Working Women in Allentown was born.
Founded in 2000, the organization is a part of the Allentown YWCA and is completely run and funded through volunteers, donations and grants.
“It’s a wonderfully simple program,” said Sarah Barrett, the executive director of the Allentown YWCA. “Very, very simple but very, very effective.”
Serving more than 650 women each year, individuals in need are referred to this organization from a network of about 75 social service organizations and houses of worship in the Lehigh Valley.
They are then given full professional interview outfits, including suits, accessories, shoes and extras items, such as makeup and perfume. Once the clients receive a position, the organization gives the women a week’s worth of work-appropriate clothing so they do not have to use their first paycheck to buy work attire.
Kathy Thatcher is one of the 50 volunteers at The Perfect Fit. The volunteers receive training to not only put together outfits but also aid in the process of educating the women on how to professionally dress and build up confidence and self-esteem — all the components that make someone employable.
With extra time on her hands, Thatcher chose to volunteer at The Perfect Fit because she wanted to empower women. A volunteer of two years, she said the work is rewarding in itself and that she simply enjoys getting to see someone walk out smiling with some new items, feeling good about themselves.
Each year, the organization gives out more than 9,000 articles of clothing and accessories to its clients. All of the clothing is donated. Once it arrives, it is sorted and pieces that do not fit the professional standards for the workforce are donated to local churches and community organizations.
“Nothing gets thrown out,” Thatcher said. “Everything is used.”
Heidi Lennick, who has served as the program director for 10 years, is in charge of garnering donations and volunteers.
Lennick said she enjoys helping the women and hearing their stories because she feels like it makes an impact on their lives.
“Seeing how they are so uplifted after we are finished wardrobing them, seeing that change, that’s what it is all about,” Lennick said.
In fact, Lennick was working the day Guerino first came into The Perfect Fit. Five years after giving her that first interview outfit, Lennick now works closely with Guerino, who is employed and running a transitional home for women recently out of domestic violence, trafficking and incarceration.
Guerino sends her clients to Lennick to receive the same help she did.
“Both Heidi (Lennick) and Sarah (Barrett) are amazing women, and The Perfect Fit is just an incredible and wonderful organization,” Guerino said. “I send all of the women that I help in my organization there, and I personally donate clothes to them.”
In addition to wardrobe assistance, the organization offers a “Gateway to Success” career development series that includes free workshops in networking, public speaking, professional etiquette, manager expectations and maneuvering difficult conversations at work.
The program was created out of a need The Perfect Fit recognized in its clients. They needed coaching with the soft skills necessary to not only get a job, but to start and grow in a career.
Barrett said clothing serves as an equalizer. Simply giving a woman some makeup and a professional suit can transform her outer appearance. But it can also help her understand that she has just as much of a right to her dream job as people who have more resources than she does.
Success stories like Guerino’s are common.
“We have moments all the time,” Barrett said.
A clerk at a local boutique. A stylist touching up a woman’s highlights. A nurse tending to a broken wrist. These are all success stories volunteers now tell after running into their previous Perfect Fit clients.
Earlier this year, Barrett said a volunteer from The Perfect Fit went to the emergency room for a broken wrist.
“Do you remember me?” a nurse asked her.
“No, I’m so sorry I don’t,” the volunteer replied.
“I just wanted to let you know that you helped me at The Perfect Fit a couple years ago,” the nurse said. “You gave me these scrubs. You helped me get this job.”
If you would like to donate clothing, volunteer time or learn more information about The Perfect Fit for Working Women, please contact Heidi Lennick at 561-676-6622 or [email protected]