Lisa Achey was ready to go back to work. For five years, she had been receiving physical therapy for injuries from a car accident. She had been living on state disability assistance, then unemployment. When she was healthy enough to return to work, she couldn't find a job in Rhode Island.
So she packed up and joined her family in Florida and continued her job search here. In the past seven months, she has applied for 20 jobs. By word of mouth, the Port Richey resident has gotten odd jobs cleaning houses, mowing lawns and driving people to grocery stores. But she still needed help to find a full-time job.
Connections Job Development, a nonprofit in New Port Richey that provides support for active job seekers, has helped Achey prepare a resume and apply for jobs. Just as important, the group gave Achey two professional outfits to wear on interviews.
"You have to have close-toed shoes for job interviews and the only thing I had was sneakers and flip-flops," said Achey, 49. Last week she used a voucher from Connections to get new slacks, a top, a dress, a jacket and shoes that will make her feel more confident as she continues in her job search.
Connections Job Development is one of the beneficiaries of the West Pasco Bar Association's Law Suits project. For the past decade, the annual clothing drive has solicited donations of business and professional attire to benefit men and women who can't afford to purchase on-the-job office apparel or clothes for job interviews.
"People just don't have the money or the outfits," Connections Job Development's executive director Sheila Krautner said. "If they've been in a position where they've not had to wear dress clothes for work, they don't have them for interviews."
Six years ago, about 10 percent of Connection's clients needed interview or work clothes. Now nearly a quarter of Connection's 800 clients do.
"You put somebody in clothing for interviews or you give them clothes to dress up for work and their whole demeanor changes," Krautner said.
"It gives them a lot of hope," she added. "It's an empowerment program that we have."
In addition to providing clients with clothing, Connections recruits a hairdresser to come in every four or five weeks to give free haircuts.
Debora Diaz of Blaesing & Diaz, P.A. is this year's Law Suits coordinator, and has been involved with the program since its inception. Diaz estimates that last year's drive amassed more than 50 suits.
"There's definitely a need. Clothes are expensive and the price keeps going up," Diaz said. "You're expected to look neat and professional in an interview, so there is a definite need out there."
The other beneficiary of the Law Suits drive is Pasco-Hernando Community College's Dress for Success program, which provides professional clothing to students in need.
Jessica White, coordinator of student activities at PHCC, said most of the Dress for Success clothing goes to students in organizations such as Phi Beta Lambda, a business club in which members participate in competitions where professional dress is expected.
"Sometimes, the students can't afford the clothing in order to dress professionally," White said.
Even though it's possible to cobble together an inexpensive professional look from clothes at the Salvation Army or Goodwill thrift stores, White said it can be intimidating for students, especially when they need the outfit immediately.
Achey, who has interviewed with a florist, a cleaning service and a newspaper delivery service, said her new clothes will increase her confidence as she continues her job search.
"I'm grateful," Achey said. "I can't thank them enough."
Samantha Fuchs can be reached at (727) 869-6235 or firstname.lastname@example.org.