Alison Vaughn, the founder and CEO of Jackets for Jobs, Inc., helps unemployed and low-income women increase their confidence, find jobs and soar.
light attendants and image consultants typically assist professionals with their busy lives. But when United Airlines offered Alison Vaughn a leave of absence-as they downsized following Sept. 11, 2001-the founder and CEO of Jackets for Jobs, Inc., saw an opportunity to expand the nonprofit she’d founded the year before to help unemployed and low-income women increase their confidence, find jobs and soar.
In the 12 years since, Jackets for Jobs has expanded to also assist men, serving 1,000 clients a year. They provide the clothing, grooming skills and products, job-hunting training, and the encouragement needed to secure the self-sufficiency of a paycheck. Vaughn is one of Martha Stewart’s “Dreamers into Doers,” and she has been featured on other national media, including Oprah, ABC’s “The View,” NBC’s “Today Show” and “The Apprentice.”
This exposure helped garner the attention of T.J.Maxx, a $1 million corporate donor that has renovated the organization’s downtown facility; provides employees/volunteers for major events, like a recent garage sale; and donates new clothing to stock the program’s closets. God runs the program, she says, and she was simply called to manage this Biblically inspired project.
What led you to leave a glamorous career for the nonprofit sector?
The Lord just put it on my heart to help women who were on welfare. When I look at the ladies we serve, I see my sister who died of cancer-and had at one point been on assistance. There’s a plaque in my office that reads, “This organization is in tribute to Cheryl Vaughn.” I’m so passionate about this. I know this is exactly what I’m supposed to do. My calling is to help clothe the poor.
What would people be surprised to learn about the clients you serve?
A big misconception is that those who need assistance are not educated. They may well have been downsized, or be out of work for any number of reasons. Five years ago, a lady came in for service and looked at me and said, “Oh my God, we went to college together.” It was an awkward moment, but I felt I was there to assist her. My staff and I serve as image consultants and help clients improve their self-esteem by helping them select the proper clothing.
What kinds of programs does Jackets for Jobs conduct?
In addition to the job preparedness training, we’ve also conducted special programs like “Stepping into Success” with Miss America, including a shoe distribution to attendees; Detroiter Shaun Robinson from TV’s “Access Hollywood” brought “Exactly As I Am,” her book on building self-esteem; and “A Tie to Remember” was a demonstration for men on business attire. We’re funded in part by Detroit Workforce Development, so other agencies under this umbrella bring their clients for programs and job-readiness training.
What does Jackets for Jobs, Inc. need in order to build and grow?
We accept gently used business attire and shoes-no stiletto heels, gym shoes or flip-flops. But with Men’s Warehouse donations and the new clothes we get from T.J.Maxx, we have plenty of clothes, except we sometimes have to purchase plus-sizes. What we need is funding for our programs, to duplicate and distribute training booklets, for speaker stipends and other supplies. We’re also expanding to become a global agency.
We’re working with an organization in South Africa where we’ve sent suits. I’m going to Botswana on a mission trip that was arranged when the ambassador was visiting here in Detroit. I love to travel. I still have jet fuel in my blood.
For more information visit JacketsForJobs.org or call 313-579-9160.