By Ansley Brackin
On Thursday, November 5, the Rabun County UMC Connectional Group held a ribbon cutting ceremony for the new location of First Impressions: A Work Ready Clothes Closet. More than 60 people attended the celebration of the ministry’s new, larger space, including Gainesville District Superintendent Richard Chewning.
The dream of First Impressions began in Dillard UMC in 2011, a church who sponsors local employment fairs. Ministry coordinator, Janine Bethel, recalls noticing job seekers attending the fairs underdressed and realizing that many people were simply presenting themselves in the best clothing they had. She then expressed an interested in dressing the unemployed for success to her pastor and the Department of Labor.
They visited Roswell UMC’s clothing closet for advice and inspiration before opening for business on church grounds. The ministry quickly realized the importance of easy accessibility and later moved to a small space provided for them by the Department of Labor.
In 2015 First Impressions became a connectional ministry of the Rabun County UMC Connection Group, which currently includes Antioch UMC, Clayton 1st UMC, Dillard UMC, Mountain City UMC, New Hope UMC, Tallulah Falls UMC, and Tiger UMC.
With a larger group of volunteers and greater donation pool, the ministry moved into their current space, offered to them by the Rabun Christian Food Ministry. The larger space is ideal in location as it is a quick drive from the Department of Labor.
The closet is run completely by volunteers and is supervised by Bethel and fellow coordinator Pam Buchanan. They provide customers with two free outfits for work interviews. Once they have been hired, they can return to the store for three more work attire outfits. These outfits includ everything from shoes to accessories in order for job seekers to look their absolute best.
“We have had amazing support from the community,” says Bethel. “We are never short on clothes.”
She says people often donate their clothes after they retire as a way of giving back to the community and the work place.
First Impressions is constantly in contact with other community closets, sharing their overstock and exchanging clothes to ensure the right size and fit is provided to each person.
“All of these agencies are really good about working together,” Bethel says. “Our primary goal is to help people into the work force.”
The ministry also works with the Department of Corrections through their mobile closet in surrounding counties, Stephens and Habersham. They provide clothes to those participating in Community Supervision Employment Workshops. Their efforts earned them the 2014 Faith Based Partner of the Year Award, given by the Georgia Department of Corrections.
Churches interested in forming a similar ministry should contact their local Department of Labor, Bethel suggests, and involve them in the process. They can help advertise the ministry’s services. Bethel also recommends forming a strong group of goal oriented partners and supporters, made up of surrounding ministries, school systems, and agencies. Participating in these aspects of the community and attending town meetings, she adds, is the best way to receive information on local needs.
Anyone interested in donating items to First Impressions can deliver their washed clothes and accessories to the store front on Mondays from 9am-noon. Those who wish to learn more about creating a similar ministry can contact Janine Bethel at 706-782-6761 or Pam Buchanan at 706-782-1530. Hours of operation are Tuesday-Thursday from 10am-2pm.