Apr 3, 2014
08:45 AMConnecticut Today
Connecticut Nonprofit Helps Veterans and Students Dress for Success
It all began with one job-seeking college student who had an enviable résumé but lacked the polished look of a job candidate.
The interviewer was Southbury-based professional recruiter, Scott Sokolowski, and he had to know why this promising candidate wasn’t wearing a suit to what could be the most important interview of his life.
The student’s response: “I can’t afford one.”
That got Sokolowski thinking: Why should college students be at a disadvantage during the job hunt because they can’t afford to buy a nice suit, often because they don’t have a job?
Talk about a vicious cycle.
Sokolowski bought that candidate a suit and also came up with a biggger idea, to host a suit drive for college students at the University of Bridgeport. More than 200 students attended that event, and his 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, Save-A-Suit, was officially off the ground.
“It was huge,” says Save-A-Suit Executive Director Jessica Ewud (with Sokolowski, above). “We knew we had a good idea.”
That was back in 2010. The organization’s reach expanded beyond students in 2012 to include providing suits to veterans. (Sokolowski served in the Air Force for six years and has over 50 years of military experience in his family.)
To date, the organization, which is headquartered in Shelton and has an office in Southbury, has given out more than 2,000 suits to veterans and college students through suit drives. They’re on a mission to help many more.
“As two wars draw to a close, the roughly 1.6 million veterans who have fought for America will soon find themselves in the most civilian of activities: looking for a job. We are on a mission to help close the gap,” the website says.
In January, they launched their Ship-A-Suit program, which sends suits, ties, shirts and shoes to veterans around the country who register through the website.
Ewud says there are more than 1,000 veterans on the Ship-A-Suit waiting list already, after launching only three months ago, and without any advertising—proof of the need out there.
“[We dress them] so they look the part, feel more confident and they tend to interview better,” says Ewud. “Many companies are looking to hire veterans so that already makes them a good candidate … this just kind of adds value to that.”
The organization asks veterans who gain employment after recieving a suit to write a testimonial, like the two below.
Save-A-Suit has shipped several dozen suits through the Ship-A-Suit program, and all of the veterans reported back that they have gained employment since then, says Ewud. But there are still many more waiting for their free suits—and possibly their own shot at employment.
The biggest obstacle the organization faces is funding. It costs approximately $50 to send a suit across the country—between cleaning and shipping costs.
Ewud estimates that the organization has thousands of donated suits in storage across Connecticut.
So there are thousands of veterans out there and thousands of suits already collected. It would seem like the perfect equation, but as Ewud readily admits, it’s expensive to send a thousand suits at $50 each.
“We’re struggling to raise the money,” says Ewud.
The nonprofit regularly hosts charity events, like the speakeasy-themed event held recently at the Katherine Hepburn Theatre in Old Saybrook to raise money for the Ship-A-Suit program.
“It went great,” says Ewud. “It really helped us raise awareness in that community.”
The guest speakers were two Connecticut veterans, Josh Stark and Jason Walsh, who had gotten suits through the program. According to Ewud, they discussed how the program helped to advance their careers.
Save-A-Suit goes beyond providing veterans and college students with suits and also offers résumé building workshops, helps people update their Linkedin profiles and provides veterans with other resources at the suit drives.
“We don’t want to just hand them a suit and send them on their way,” says Ewud. “We want to see them employed.”