COMMUNITY GEMS: Oakwood woman helps job seekers look their best

Cindy Garner sees the clients of Clothes That Work transform

The right clothes can help a person look on the outside how they feel on the inside.

That’s from at least one client of Clothes That Work, according to Cindy Garner. As the executive director of the nonprofit organization that provides professional clothing and other services for job seekers, she has seen the change with her own eyes.

“They leave smiling from ear to ear and standing 10 feet tall,” said Garner, of Oakwood.

Garner, 57, served on a variety of boards and volunteered throughout the community while raising two children, now adults. In 2016 she joined Clothes That Work’s development team and was named executive director two years later.

Clothes That Work, which is now celebrating its 25th year, has a network of referral partners that connects job seekers to the organization. During their appointment, they meet with a client coach who helps them choose a free outfit for their interview and offers guidance for a successful outcome.

Later, they return for a second appointment to receive a week’s wardrobe so they don’t spend their first paycheck on work clothes, Garner said.

“Interview clothing isn’t necessarily what you wear at the workplace,” she said.

The organization, which also offers classes and workshops, served about 3,000 clients each year before the COVID-19 pandemic. But the numbers utilizing the clothing and coaching services has dropped, and transportation to the office at the Montgomery County Job Center has become an issue, she said.

Clothes That Work is trying to eliminate that barrier with a new 38-foot bus that holds 4,000 items of clothing and will allow the organization to broaden its reach to grow and prepare the local workforce. The bus was delivered in May and will offer the same services available in-office.

“We call it our mission in motion,” she said.

Clothes That Work is more than just a job for Garner. Community work has long been important to her, said Mark Garner, Cindy’s husband of 30 years who nominated her as a Dayton Daily News Community Gem. Both Garners are originally from Virginia and moved to the Dayton area in 1994.

The organization has thrived under her tenure, he said, and the acquisition of the bus was a big step.

“To get to this point took leadership, and she has done that,” he said.

The organization depends on volunteers and donations of interview and work-related clothing. That includes more than simply suits, Cindy Garner said. The needs are varied and range from heavy-duty jeans and steel-toed boots for construction sites and khaki or black pants for jobs in the food industry.

Clothes That Work was founded in 1998 as an organization serving women, but today 61 percent of its clients are men, she said.

“There’s really not any typical client,” said Garner, and they include graduating seniors from local colleges to those reentering the workforce after retirement and starting a new career.

What they often do have in common, however, is the transformation they undergo at Clothes That Work.

“It’s so unbelievable how clothing can change someone’s confidence level,” she said.

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