The Walk-In Closet
Making Changes’ Walk-In Closet thrives off the contributions and assets provided by our volunteers, supporters and partners like Field Law. These resources enable us to empower the women we serve with the knowledge and tools they need to pursue their employment and education goals.
In 2019-2020, with the support of over 250 volunteers, we assisted 1,778 women of all ages and backgrounds who were unemployed, underemployed or migrating to a new career. These women faced financial (and often cultural or social) barriers that prevented them from accessing the appropriate clothing and accessories needed for a successful transition into the workplace. Funds from the Field Law Community Fund Program helped ensure we had a sufficient clothing supply to meet the clients’ needs by supplementing any gaps in donations, covered supply costs, and supported our volunteer recognition initiatives. Many of the clients also participated in our employment programs and/or referred their teenage daughters to My Best Friend’s Closet.
Making Changes serves a diverse population of women, including immigrants, refugees, and Indigenous and Canadian citizens; however, all the participants have two things in common: they are financially challenged, and they need appropriate business attire for interviews, new jobs, school or volunteer work. Participants are referred by community-serving agencies, pre-employment training programs or post-secondary institutions in Calgary and surrounding areas, and thanks to funding from programs like the Field Law Community Fund Program, we can provide them with the resources to build their self-confidence and pursue employment or education.
Maria was born in Veracruz, Mexico, where she attended Pan Americano De Veracruz College and achieved a 3-year diploma as a Bilingual Office Assistant. After graduating, she held several different jobs in various industries, including accounting, banking and sales, while starting her own small business selling school supplies. Maria was married for 18 years, and after her divorce she became the lone support for her three daughters. Maria felt that learning English was essential to her daughters’ futures, and in 2000 she gave away anything that didn’t fit into one suitcase and immigrated to the United States. Maria settled in Los Angeles, where she hoped to improve her English and make a better wage so that her daughters could all go to University.
Her oldest daughter first made the move to Calgary, and after marrying and having children of her own, she urged her mother and sisters to follow. Maria arrived in 2018 and immediately enrolled in programs for newcomers, beginning at the Fish Creek Library, where she took reading, writing, and conversational English. She went on to take the Food Service Training Program at the Calgary Immigrant Women’s Association (CIWA). As Maria finished this program, CIWA referred her to the Walk-In Closet.
Maria arrived at her appointment with an open mind, and she soon found a friend in her volunteer image consultant. Prior to moving to Calgary, Maria gave away everything that didn’t fit into one suitcase. They worked together to put together several outfits that would see her through job interviews and the first few weeks of work. After this visit, Maria had two interviews in the restaurant industry, and she felt proud of her appearance. She knew that “if you are feeling good then you are portraying a good face.” Unfortunately Maria did not get either job, but she believed it was due to her English and was determined to improve herself in this area, enrolling in Bow Valley College’s English Language Learning Program. She is currently working on her level 7, which will end in December.
Maria has witnessed the large numbers of immigrants settling in Calgary. She feels that the Walk-In Closet program is an essential service that helps immigrants settle into their new lives. The clothes strengthen their confidence and ability to look for and find jobs. Maria is now an ambassador for the Walk-In Closet, helping spread the word of the program to her fellow classmates, and she hopes one day to be able to donate clothing back into the program.