Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Helping the needy dress for success

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A struggling used clothing depot that helps women in need dress for success was visited Thursday by a high-profile woman who knows what it's like having nothing to wear.

Federal Minister of State for the Status of Women Helena Guergis told a group at the Clothes Closet that in her former role as secretary of state for foreign affairs she travelled to 32 countries and her luggage was lost 15 times. One time, she was scrambling to find something to wear before delivering a speech.

"I almost had to give the keynote address in my Nikes."

Guergis landed with her luggage this time, after she accepted a invitation to see the South Winnipeg Family Information Centre's Clothes Closet.

Volunteers donate and sort work clothes and professional attire so women in need can make a good first impression, wardrobe-wise, when they go for job interviews, start new jobs or show up for court.

"I fully recognize and value having that confidence," the politician said. "You have to dress for success," continued Guergis, 40. "It's that way, especially in politics."

Guergis said more women are needed in leadership roles, and she hopes the Clothes Closet will outfit some who are interested in politics.

She may not have political aspirations, but well-dressed Robin Winston is leading many women into better situations.

The single mother of four, who was waitressing four years ago, picked up a suit from the Clothes Closet to apply for a new job.

Today, she's an employment consultant at a non-profit agency with a gift for helping other women land on their feet with good jobs.

"I was a waitress for 20 years," said Winston, who received office software training from Opportunities for Employment, which hired her as a receptionist. She worked her way up to counsellor, and has connected up to 30 women a month with employment, breaking her agency's record for a single consultant, according to her boss, Lisa Keks.

"I love helping people," Winston said. She directs clients to the Clothes Closet. The stylishly-attired woman said she'll go with clients to the closet in the Fort Garry United Church basement and help them choose something to wear, "if they'll let me."

"This place is phenomenal," Winston said. "It helps a lot of people."

The Clothes Closet works with many agencies around the city, including the Osborne Village Resource Centre, Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata Centre, Employment and Income Assistance and Success Skills Centre.

Karen Velthuys, the executive director of the South Winnipeg Family Information Centre, said the 18-month grant from the Winnipeg Foundation for the Clothes Closet has ended. The entire centre runs on just $45,000 a year from the United Way and the goodwill of volunteers.

carol.sanders@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 5, 2010 A9

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