Clothing charity a step on ladder to success

Posted: Monday, May 15, 2000

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- The free advice dispensed at the Career Closet seems just as valuable as the clothing.

On a recent weekday afternoon, in the dimly lit basement, crowded with racks of suits, dresses, skirts, blouses, shoes and purses, four women selected clothes that could help them land jobs or go to work in style.

As Judy Kintz, a training-to-work coordinator with the University of Alaska Fairbanks, walked through Career Closet, she tossed out opinions and advice.

''Good color,'' she said as a woman held up a purple dress. ''Don't wear black stockings with it.''

Turning to two younger women, she offered more insights.

''Don't wear miniskirts. No body piercing and no big earrings. You can wear a pin, but don't wear anything that makes a political statement.''

Kintz, wearing a conservative beige blazer, cream-colored blouse and slacks, advised Quwanda Washington to wear knee-length skirts. But when Washington replied she didn't have any, Kintz's next move was to help her find a serious-looking navy blue suit.

''I'm not comfortable in things like that,'' another young woman said. And Kintz's reply? ''Wear them and get used to them.

''I encourage them to stay conservative,'' Kintz told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.

The Career Closet opened three years ago at the Fairbanks Native Association in conjunction with the Welfare to Work program. It is now operated by UAF's Tanana Valley Campus downtown center.

About 500 people a year visit the closet to prepare for job interviews or the world of work. There are no applications to fill out or income guidelines to follow. Anyone who steps forward for assistance will be helped at the closet.

Customers of the closet come from all walks of life. Many are stay-at-home moms re-entering the work force, some are young graduates. Even men are now using the service.

While most people find out about the service from friends or neighbors, referrals also come from the Tanana Chiefs Conference, the Division of Public Assistance, the Department of Labor, the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation and Adult Learning Programs of Alaska.

Clothing is donated by women's clubs and individuals. Items sought include basic office wear such as skirts, blazers, shoes, maternity clothes or men's suits.

A part-time worker sorts the contributions according to size and displays them on racks,. The clothing doesn't usually hang in the basement for long, Kintz said.

Full-time student Tricia Hardt was thrilled to discover the closet last week. Showing off the red and white blouses she had found, Hardt continued her search for clothes she can wear while working in offices this summer.

''I have a complete interview outfit,'' she said, holding up a skirt, blouse and jacket. ''I feel better about starting to work now. This is an exceptional opportunity.''

With an eye to the future, Kintz looks beyond the cramped basement and wishes for a larger space. She dreams of having a washer and dryer and of adding such amenities as haircuts and manicures.

But for now, Kintz said having patrons return to tell her they got a job is all the encouragement she needs.

''It's working,'' she said.

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