Tell me about yourself.
It's the one sentence many people dread during a job interview. But for those who have been out of work for years, faced homelessness, addiction, depression and incarceration, the answer becomes much more difficult.
For the last month, the Men’s Wearhouse and San Diego non-profit organization Second Chance have held their fifth annual National Suit Drive, to help get people off the streets, into a new suit and back to work.
Together, they encourage individuals, businesses and community organizations to donate unwanted business attire and provide a fresh start for men and women facing joblessness.
Second Chance Executive Director Robert Coleman said the program is often an emotional journey for those who participate.
“The people we work with may be homeless, it may be they have a disease or addiction, drugs or alcohol, gambling — maybe they’ve been previously incarcerated or have a combination of all of the above,” Coleman said.
Second Chance was established to empower people to change their lives and strengthen communities by giving individuals a second chance at becoming contributing members of society.
“People just need that first opportunity given to them,” Coleman said.
The program is divided into two, two-week parts, with the first focusing on behavioral and cognitive training.
“We get inside their heads and work with the attitudinal stuff that’s really holding them back,” Coleman said.
The second half of the program focuses on job interview skills and using the Internet.
“Then we work with that person on how to dress and present themselves — this is where the suit drive comes in,” Coleman said. “The amazing thing is that at the end of four weeks … there is a complete and utter transformation of the individual.”
Men’s Wearhouse Vice President of Corporate Giving Steven Cook said they partner with nearly 200 non-profit agencies across the country who distribute the clothing.
“Sometimes we don’t realize that there’s clothing in our closet we’re taking for granted,” Cook said. “To you it doesn’t have that much value, but when it comes to men and women who are struggling for self sufficiency … an outfit that means nothing to you can mean everything to that person.”
Cook said the important thing to remember is that the merchandise isn’t a hand out, it’s a hand up.
“When you see that someone’s so appreciative of something that you didn’t even give a second thought to, it has to affect you,” Cook said. “…It reels in the importance of humanity in helping other people out.”
Coleman said up to 350 people graduate each year, with an estimated 70 percent of graduates finding employment within three or four months.
“We take away every hurdle in their way and then it comes down to them,” Coleman said. “Graduation is the start line. We commit to them the next two years to get a job and help them be successful. Their commitment is they have to graduate.”
After learning the tools they need to succeed in a job interview, they are provided with professional clothes to look the part.
Chula Vista mall Men’s Wearhouse manager Tom Rodriguez has been with the company for 15 years.
“I think we’ve all been down and out in our lives… It’s nice to find out that there’s someone or a company willing to help lift someone out of what they’re going through in their lives,” Rodriguez said.
The Men’s Wearhouse Give a Suit, Change a Life drive runs through July 31 with a goal to have 110,000 items collected at more than 900 Men’s Wearhouse locations nationwide.