Monday, April 13, 2020

A New Beginning

Greetings friends. It has been so long since the last time I've blogged. These are such crazy and difficult times with everything that is happening because of coronavirus. I started a new program for Project Smile, Suits & Smiles, and thought this would be a good chance to share the story behind it.

2020 started off as an amazing year. For almost 2 years, I had wanted to add a new program for Project Smile which would provide men in need with job interview and work attire. In the summer of 2018, I read an article in the NYT about an organization in New York City which was providing this service for men in need. Reading about the experiences of some of the men who received clothing was so heartwarming. I searched for organizations that provided men in the Boston area with job interview clothing, but I didn't find anything. I reached out to Kim Todd, the Executive Director of the Boston chapter of Dress for Success- I've known Kim since the very early days of Project Smile- she was one of our earliest supporters and was a huge help in my early days of grant writing. I asked her about the need in Boston area for our program which provided men with job interview attire. She said there was a tremendous need and was very encouraging.

Finding space for our program was tremendously difficult. I needed space in the greater Boston area which was accessible by public transit. It was important that people be able to access our service if they didn't have a car. Ideally, I needed a parking space for myself since I would be driving in. I spent a lot of time reaching out to people I knew that may be able to help and I spent a lot of time chasing down dead ends. By January 2019, I had almost given up on trying to find a physical space to run the program from and I decided that I would make it a mobile program, where I would load clothes into my car or buy a van and have a version of a fashion truck where I could go to different locations and set up a pop-up shop or, if I had a truck, could park the truck in a location and men could come and "shop" for clothes. I started reaching out for clothing donations- our local newspaper, The Milford Daily News, did a very nice story about the new program, and I received many calls and donations from local residents.

Within a few days of receiving donations, I realized that my mobile idea wasn't going to work. The reality was that I didn't have much help at that point, so I needed to be able to run the program by myself. I've always worked from an office in my mom's house, so I had taken over a spare bedroom for clothing storage. I soon realized that men's clothing, particularly suits are rather heavy- especially when you're trying to carry arm loads of them up and down stairs. There's also a lot more involved with properly storing/organizing clothing than stuffed animals. Clothes need to be hung up for the most part or neatly folded and they need to be organized by size.

I also quickly got overwhelmed with people donating clothing that was totally unusable. I know that many people donate with wonderful intentions, but I was receiving clothing that had moth holes, some clothes that were very old, smelled bad, some items that clearly weren't business clothing- (baseball caps, hoodies), etc. I did receive very nice items as well, but sorting through the clothing was becoming very distressing. It reminded me of my early years of Project Smile, when we received tons of stuffed animals, most of which could not be used. I realized that loading and unloading my car to set up pop-up shops on a weekly basis wasn't going to work. It was too impractical and wasn't going to be sustainable.

I also realized that I didn't want to drive a truck around Boston. I love driving, but the idea of trying to navigate a van or something the size of a food truck through Boston's congested streets and park it on a regular basis, was rather daunting. I had flash backs of the time I drove a moving van around Allston on one of my sister's college move-in days. A very stressful experience indeed.

I don't shy away from challenges, but the mobile program was going to be logistically too difficult to run by myself.  I decided to stop taking more clothing donations and went back to trying to find a permanent space. Months later, I was no further along in my search and had almost given up. Then, one day, in the middle of last summer, I received an email from a lady at Goodwill in Boston who had been helping me trying to help me find space since the year before. Goodwill and Mass Hire had been very supportive of what I was trying to do. Kathleen asked if I was still looking for space and recommended that I reach out to another lady who knew someone who had space. I made the phone call as soon as I got the email, but I didn't think it would really go anywhere- I had been feeling very discouraged. The lady on the phone was very nice, she told me to call this guy named Robert who was connected to the organization that managed the potential space located in Jamaica Plain. I thanked her, but still didn't think it would go anywhere. I called Robert, who was very pleasant and talked about a potential space that would be coming available later in the summer. It sounded good- located just a short walk from the Orange line T stop, had free parking as well. A few days later, I saw the space- it was great office space located in a housing development. I really liked it, but there was still an organization located there and running a program. I was trying not to get too excited, but this looked promising. However, a month later, I found out that the space was not going to be available. Robert told me that there may be another space that would work for us and he'd look into it. I was very discouraged at this point and felt like I would never find a home for our program.

In October, I reached out to Robert again and told him how much I needed to find space- I was feeling desperate but trying not to show it. A few days later, I went to see another space that was in the community center at the same housing development. The space was vacant-  a good sign and it was great. It was even better than the previous space, especially since it was in its own building. There had been a children's program there before, so it was painted in all sorts of crazy colors, but it had three rooms, lots of big windows and it was available! I negotiated a reasonable rent with the president of the organization that managed the space and eventually moved in on December 1. The wait was over and Suits & Smiles had found its home.

Well, that's all for today friends.. tomorrow, I'll let you know what happened after we moved in.  I hope you're staying well.

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