A Dream Closet

At Edith's Place at LaGuardia Community College, founder Carolyn Everett and her mother —for whom the shop is named—help students look their best at job interviews

First impressions count at Edith's Place, a cost-free clothing and accessories shop created to help some of CUNY's neediest students look their best at job interviews.

Medgar Evers College freshman Onica Clarke certainly thinks so. Decked out at Edith's Place, she received four job offers at a job fair and signed on as a seasonal salesperson at Macy's. "I went to my interviews, and I nailed it!" she recalled after joyously bouncing back into the shop located at LaGuardia Community College.

This dream closet is the brainchild of Carolyn Everett, director of the CUNY Economic Development Corporation, whose personal donation of more than $100,000 packed the room with new, brand-name clothing and accessories from the likes of Elie Tahari, Eddie Bauer, Land's End and Ralph Lauren.

In the past year, scores of male and female students from many CUNY campuses have gotten their foot in the employment door not only with new brand-name suits, dresses and shoes, but also with sweaters, scarves, jewelry and handbags supplied by Edith's Place. It is named for Everett's mother, former CUNY Vice Chair Edith B. Everett.

In addition to one interview outfit, CUNY students who land a job are given enough clothing to last until the first paycheck. "We felt it was important to offer new clothing," Carolyn Everett said. "We do not want them to feel they are second-class citizens with second-hand clothing. We want them to be well-prepared candidates who are ready to take on the world."

"CUNY is all about people sustaining themselves, and if we can promote and make it easier, that's wonderful," her mother added, as she helped Clarke select a scarf for the black suit she was trying on.

Clarke placed a red and black plaid scarf around her neck, while the Everetts gave her an informal fashion consultation. They finally decided that the scarf was too wintry and substituted a red floral one.

"Edith is everyone's mom," said Carolyn Everett, as her mother adjusted Clarke's scarf one final time.

The Everetts have long supported the University. Mrs. Everett served as a trustee for 23 years. Her late husband, Henry, was a board member of the CUNY Graduate Center's Humanities Center and previously a member of the Board of Visitors. Carolyn Everett is executive director of the CUNY Economic Development Corporation. The family has encouraged the aspirations of young people in other ways, including sponsorship of a national internship program in public service and creation of the Everett Children's Adventure Garden at the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx.

Edith's Place is run as a CUNY EDC workforce development program in collaboration with two CUNY programs for students who are on public assistance, COPE (College Opportunity to Prepare for Employment) and POISED (Perfect Opportunity for Individual Skills and Educational Development) for Success. These programs prepare eligible students to enter or re-enter the work force by offering coursework, resume-writing assistance, interview preparation and counseling. COPE and POISED for Success, in turn, are funded and operated in collaboration with the Family Independence Administration of the City of New York Human Resources Administration.

Carolyn Everett hopes to expand the shop and would like to find a permanent home in Manhattan in donated or below-market-rate rental space. She got the idea for the shop after finding a jacket that she no longer wore in her CUNY office and offering it to her neighbor in the adjacent office, Deborah Douglass, University director for education and training opportunity programs. Douglass told her that it didn't fit her, but would be a perfect fit for students in the POISED and COPE programs.

The Everetts don't do it alone. Merchandise donations and highly discounted items from wholesalers and retailers of clothing, accessories, and shoes are welcomed. "We especially need larger sizes because many of our clients are women who have just had babies and are trying to re-enter the workforce," said Carolyn Everett, who added that donations of new "proper interview" attire for men are also gratefully accepted.

Edith's Place also draws volunteers from other COPE and POISED programs throughout CUNY. Danny Guerrero, an employment specialist for City Tech's COPE program, steamed a black suit jacket for Clarke to try on. Other volunteers joined Carolyn Everett in helping Hostos Community College junior Ely Burgos, who just got a job as a teacher's assistant in a Bronx elementary school.

Burgos, a 33-year-old Bronx resident, traded her denim skirt, causal long-sleeved top and tall black hipster boots for a conservative ensemble perfect for professional meetings and parent-teacher conferences. They selected a chocolate velveteen suit jacket that accented her long hair; a sedate, soft green turtleneck; a brown and green plaid A-line skirt; and brown pumps. Pink pearl earrings, a pretty pink-stone costume brooch and a brown leather handbag that doubles as a briefcase completed her new look.

Clarke, meanwhile, had traded her black slacks, black sneakers and red blouse for a black power suit and black pumps. She accented the outfit with the red and black silk scarf that the Everetts had selected and gold button-style costume earrings. She said that shopping at Edith's Place has transformed her. "This has made me feel important," she said. "It has made me feel good about myself. I would love to volunteer my time here for women like me who don't have a lot of stuff, because Edith's Place doesn't make you feel poor."

Her new wardrobe hasn't gone unnoticed. "The women who come into my department at Macy's compliment me on my outfits," she said, beaming. As she modeled her new outfit, Clarke said, "I feel like a celebrity." A smiling Burgos, clutching her brown leather bag, agreed, adding that in her eyes they both looked "wonderful."