By Erik Galcia
A student can have all the ambition and skills they need to achieve their career and educational goals, yet a professional first impression can make or break that deal.
Riverside City College’s Career Closet opened April 22 to provide students with professional attire in hopes of alleviating the financial obstacles that many students already face.
Located in Portable 5 between the old Life and Physical Science Buildings near the cafeteria, the Career Closet is arranged in the style of a high-end boutique and runs on donations of suits, ties, dresses, shoes and much more that is available to RCC students free of charge.
As of now, students are limited to one professional outfit per semester, but the “Casual Corner” section features clothing available at all times for students who just need something to wear.
“The Career Closet has helped me to get … clothing that I can use for an interview,” said Aaron Baeza, a communication studies major at RCC. “My outfit makes me feel like I’m becoming a professional.”
Brenda Carillo, a business administration major at RCC, was gifted an outfit to wear to her upcoming peer-mentor interview.
“I didn’t have any money to spend on an outfit like this,” Carillo said. “I feel more confident for my interview because I’m presenting myself more professionally.”
The Career Closet went from dream to reality through the collaborative efforts of several passionate staff and faculty members at RCC.
“I tried this three years ago but didn’t get this support,” said Meriel Anderson-McDade, the employment placement coordinator at RCC.
“I had clothes in a closet for four or five months but without faculty support it wasn’t able to get off the ground,” Anderson-McDade said as she pointed to the closet in her office.
Anderson-McDade extends credit to her fellow Career Closet committee members, as well as countless nights of prayer.
One such committee member, RCC professor Rebecca L. Loomis, brought up the idea for the Career Closet at a department meeting. She expressed appreciation for Thomas Cruz-Soto, dean of student services at RCC, as well as the entire team that worked to bring the Career Closet to life.
“We were all thinking in the same direction … and it all came together without any funding,” Loomis said. “We donated what we could, volunteered hours, cleaned up the portable. We spent two to three months getting clothes and racks.”
College can be synonymous with financial hardship, so the project aims to help students in whatever way possible.
“I had heard most community colleges have a student homelessness problem,” Loomis said, making reference to a recent Temple University study which found that 19% of California community college students are homeless and 50% have struggled with food insecurity in the past year.
“The goal is to make it easier for our students to have what they need to get out there and meet their career goals,” Loomis said.
For this reason, Anderson-McDade suggests that the Career Closet can be more than just a resource for nice clothes.
“Whatever a student needs, all they have to do is tell us,” Anderson-McDade said. “Having a rough day? I can refer you to health services. If we find they’re in need of food, we can connect them with the food pantry.”
Other resources that will be available at the Career Closet are mock interviews and resume support. The cosmetology department will also be getting involved to provide students with reduced-costs on getting their hair, nails and makeup done.
Loomis explained that the Career Closet staff will be “learning as we go,” and hopes more resources are added as they identify what the needs are.
Although the grand opening of the Career Closet has come as a huge success, much help is needed in order to ensure that this resource remains available to students.
In its first 4.5 hours of service, the Career Closet gifted over 170 items, including 28 suits, 31 shirts, 17 ties and 18 pairs of shoes. Those involved stressed the need for student volunteers and a steady inflow of donations.
“As of now, we’re running low,” Anderson-McDade said. “If you have anything at home you don’t want, bring it by … this is our biggest challenge.”
Allyssa Ybarra, an administrative assistant at RCC, suggests reaching out to the local community for support.
“We as staff and faculty need to come in and seek outside help,” Ybarra said. “We need to reach out to community members. We can’t just depend on our community here at RCC.”
Community outreach efforts brought Adam McIntyre to the Career Closet on May 15. McIntyre is the local outreach pastor for the Grove Community Church in Riverside. Since the church has been involved in a lot of theater, McIntyre offered to allow the Career Closet access to the loads of costumes they have acquired throughout the years, which include plenty of appropriate professional clothes.
“We have rows and rows of suits and nice dresses,” McIntyre said. “You guys are welcome to come by and scoop up as much as you can.”
McIntyre also offered to mention donation opportunities and place donation bins for attendees at the church’s “Serve Week” during the first week of June.
Baeza, who also volunteers at the Career Closet, worries that a lack of awareness will end up making this a temporary project.
“We have clothing,” Baeza said. “We just need to get students in here and spread awareness of what the Career Closet is doing. Hopefully that would help us to get sponsors.”
Elisabeth Thompson-Eagle, an RCC life science professor, hopes the Career Closet will find a permanent location.
“Portable 5 is just temporary,” Thompson-Eagle said. “It would be nice to have it in a more accessible place.”
A permanent location though, would be partly dependent on continued success. The committee maintains high hopes that continued dedication and commitment will ensure that the Career Closet will remain open for future RCC students.
Donation boxes can be found in the biology faculty hallway, at the Student Services Office and in front of the Career Center.
For hours, donations and inquiries, students may call (951) 222-8446.