Job readiness services are key to area men

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James Ivy remembers the stretch in his life when he was in the situation of needing help, down, with many people counting him out. Recalling the time he was in the same position as many of the clients of Capacity Developers Incorporated, he now feels compelled to give back. “To help somebody,” he says. A barber by trade, Ivy says, “I’m better established and able to assist in adding the final touches for clients of CDI.”

CDI is where males preparing to re-enter the workforce, can go to receive clothing and services to help them succeed in their journey from start to finish. Ivy offers haircuts and grooming services that he says enhances their look and makes a perfect impression for interviews and at work.

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CLOTHING IN NEED—Irene Wilson, Community Resource Manager of Capacity Developers, Inc. prepares an order of business clothing for a client. (Photos by Diane I. Daniels).

Located at 332 Fifth Ave. on the first floor of the Warner Building, CDI is a non-profit organization that assists individuals whose personal history or status in society has resulted in particular difficulty in obtaining employment and achieving personal self-sufficiency, family cohesion and economic stability.

Funded by the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare in partnership with the Pittsburgh Partnership, PA Working Wardrobe is the program CDI offers that provides professional attire for interviews as well as job-related clothing for employment. Clothing entails suits, shirts, ties, socks, shoes and other work related items. “Our goal is to have our clients prepared to enter the workforce no matter what type of position it may be,” says Irene Wilson, Community Resource Manager. “Access to professional attire or employment specific clothing is imperative to their success when entering or re-entering the workforce.”

Wilson also pointed out that often when providing clothing their services are extended to showing men how to dress properly by matching colors, how to tie a tie, the significance of wearing dress socks, uses of a handkerchief and how to maintain and polish their shoes. “That’s where Ivy’s barbering services come in handy,” she said.

In existence for three years, Wilson said CDI referral agencies have expanded to include the Hill House Association’s Fathers Program, the Renewal Program, the Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh, the Department of Human Services of Allegheny County, the Veterans Leadership Program, the Non-Custodial Parenting Program and the Department of Welfare. Aiming to service the community, she said CDI works with churches and organizations like the Community Empowerment Association.

Also referrals come from tenants in the building like the Work Center, the Reemployment Transitions Center and Employment Data Systems, Inc., a subcontractor.

The only full time staff, Wilson said she is grateful for organizations like the Urban League and Department of Welfare because they not only provide referrals but also supply workers through the Senior Training Employment and Paid Workers Programs. She feels fortunate that the people working through the programs have been skilled. Vonda Gaines a former seamstress serves as her clothing specialist and Karen Curry handles public relations. She is also thankful that people like Ivy assist by offering their services at a low rate. Utilizing community partners and agencies has also enabled Wilson to offer various workshops dealing with reentry, work readiness skills and ethical issues.

For the second consecutive year, the Men’s Wearhouse has selected CDI as one of the organizations they support through their annual National Suit Drive where people donate gently used professional attire and they match each suit by donating a shirt. “We were thrilled to partner with Men’s Wearhouse on such a critical effort,” says Wilson. “Many men in Pittsburgh are struggling to get back on their feet after being laid off during the recession; the National Suit Drive empowered men with the self-confidence that comes from looking sharp.”

In October the group participated in a hygiene drive where they were seeking tooth paste, tooth brushes, deodorant, soaps, shavers and shaving cream, nail clippers, wash cloths and towels. “Items most people take for granted are things we need,” explained Wilson.

Involved in the social service field for more than 10 years, Wilson said she has always noticed that men often don’t receive or have the services they need.

“I understand why minority men have become depressed and angry.” Quoting statistics from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Wilson a Carlow University graduate said, “Although the recession has affected a wide spectrum of the American workforce, 82 percent of job losses have befallen men, due to the economy’s particularly heavy impact on male-dominated industries like construction and manufacturing. In Pittsburgh/ Allegheny County the unemployment rate hit 8.3 in June 2010 proving that many are still struggling to find work.”

Initiated by Wilson, PA Working Ward­robe came about from her care and concern. Working as a case manager helping people get jobs, she says she ran into the problem that her clients didn’t have proper clothing for interviews or to wear if they received the position. “I sent the women to Dress for Success, but had no place to refer men.” As a way to assist the males she began collecting men’s clothing and within a year’s time had a room full of clothing and work related items. Now the facility has expanded into two rooms which include all types of clothing and accessories inclusive of women’s apparel.

CDI also has been receiving job leads and requests from banks and various industries. Kaplin has been assisting in getting internships to help students and Community College of Allegheny County has been getting involved.

Excited about the progress CDI and the PA Working Wardrobe Program has made, Wilson said she hopes to extend referral agencies three fold, that donations continue to come in regularly and that leads to job opportunities increase. “With nearly one out of 10 working-age men unemployed in this country, we want to continuously be able to provide services that are needed in the community.”

(For more information on CDI and the PA Working Wardrobe Program, to donate or to make an appointment, call 412-281-4220.)

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