To Top

Hidden Gems: Meet Jerri Rosen of Working Wardrobes

Today we’d like to introduce you to Jerri Rosen.

Hi Jerri, please kick things off for us with an introduction to yourself and your story.
In 1990, I was President of J.L. Rosen & Company, a marketing communications agency specializing in planned giving and development programs for nonprofits.

At that time, the rates of domestic violence cases among women were skyrocketing and I was very disturbed by this. I joined some of my closest friends and set out on a mission to help domestic violence survivors rebuild their lives.

We held the first-ever “Day of Self-Esteem™” that year, serving 67 women from six shelters. It was truly going to be a one-time event! I really didn’t envision starting a nonprofit organization, but I knew the people we served needed more than a one-day event once a year.

And so, this event became the launchpad for Working Wardrobes.

In 1995, we received official nonprofit status. That same year, we expanded our services to help men and in 1998, we expanded our services once again to support young adults.

We opened our first resale boutique in 2001 to help fund the Working Wardrobes mission. A social enterprise business model is what our four stores were built on to generate significant revenue that directly supports our client programs. Two store concepts exist today – The Hanger Boutiques and The Hanger Outlets. We offer outstanding merchandise to a growing clientele in four different cities.

When you shop a lot, you save a lot – and you help a lot!

In 2012, our work expanded with the addition of VetNet, a safety net for veterans who are provided with full wraparound services to transition into the civilian workforce. We also provide our services to clients who are facing challenges to re-entry to the workforce because of unemployment and underemployment, former incarceration, addiction recovery, homelessness, etc.

Today, I am proud to say that Working Wardrobes helps over 5,000 men, women, young adults and veterans as they journey to jobs and the Power of a Paycheck.

I’m sure you wouldn’t say it’s been obstacle free, but so far would you say the journey have been a fairly smooth road?
As any nonprofit CEO will attest, there are many obstacles that come with delivering on a mission, though none as challenging as the devastating fire that destroyed our headquarters on February 2, 2020.

It was gut-wrenching.

That day started with an early morning text from a board member who said there was a fire on Kettering Street but they didn’t think it was Working Wardrobes. Then, they contacted me again to tell me it was indeed Working Wardrobes. My heart sank. It’s still hard to describe the emotions I felt when I pulled up to the building and saw absolutely everything engulfed in flames.

Sadly, when it was all said and done, the fire caused a loss of more than $2.5 million in office equipment, infrastructure, collateral, and donated clothing and accessories. After 30 years of helping others rebuild their lives, WE needed help to rebuild.

Orange County is an incredibly generous, caring and loving community. When I say that the people of this community are POWERFUL, I mean it! We actually never asked for help but our community delivered more than I could ever have imagined. Nicole Suydam, CEO of Goodwill OC provided temporary space and Monday morning after the fire, we were operational and serving our clients. Days later, we opened our Donation Center and had cars lined out to the street wanting to rebuild our inventory.

The fire was just one challenge we faced in 2020. We were dealt Punch #2 when COVID-19 emerged.

Even though we were working at home, by June 2020, we opened our new Donation Center in Irvine and just a month later, opened our state-of-the-art Career Success Center in Santa Ana.

What an honor and a privilege to be on the receiving end of such incredible generosity. Now that we are rebuilt, we can continue to rebuild the lives of others!

Even though the pandemic put us through our paces, we pivoted nearly overnight to offer our client services online. Yes, COVID was tough, but it empowered us to expand our reach by serving clients across the U.S. Today, our comprehensive online workshops have become an integral part of the programs we provide men, women, young adults and veterans.

Finally, what started as a mission to help women find jobs and independence has come full circle, brought about by the challenges we faced in 2020. That’s because many women left the workforce to care for their families during the pandemic. Unfortunately, today’s unemployment rates among women are staggering. The ‘she-cession’ has been particularly concerning as I witness the impact it has on our clients and the millions of women who are unemployed throughout the country.

Working Wardrobes is doing everything in its power to help get women on their feet and back to work, once again. Our original mission of helping women has never been more important.

Thanks for sharing that. So, maybe next you can tell us a bit more about your business?
For more than 30 years, Working Wardrobes has passionately led the charge for 105,000 men, women, young adults and veterans, helping them overcome difficult challenges on their path to meaningful employment and career success.

We are joined by an incredible army of volunteers and generous donors who care very much about transforming the lives of those in need. Their support empowers us to continue to deliver on our mission.

What’s more, we are very proud to say that Working Wardrobes was recently named one of the 2021 Best Places to Work in Orange County by the Orange County Business Journal (OCBJ). To us, this is a testament to the welcoming culture we’ve created and to the passion with which our staff and volunteers serve at-risk members of our community.

Working Wardrobes has long been known for professional clothing, but it’s our full menu of Career Development Services that makes us a standout among the people who need us most and among other nonprofits.

We provide many important services such as career assessments, individual employment plans, hard and soft skills training, resume development, job interview skills, and job placement assistance for at-risk members of our community. Professional clothing is the final step of client transformations. We also operate a number of successful social enterprises, including four resale shops, an active wardrobing center and powerful Career Development Workshops in Southern California and across the U.S.

We truly care about our clients. It’s that simple. Our clients are like family members to us. Our mission has always been and will continue to be, walking hand-in-hand with people as they journey to success in their careers and their lives. This isn’t just about looking good – the core of our work is about helping people feel good on the inside. It’s about transforming lives from the inside out, rebuilding confidence, restoring self-esteem and giving hope to the hopeless.

I am most proud of our work with veterans in tribute to my father who was also a veteran. In 2012, I joined forces with my hero – former United States Navy SEAL, Harry Humphries – to formalize our work with veterans by launching VetNet. This is a highly specialized program that provides career and personal development resources so veterans can lead happy, healthy, productive lives after military service.

In my 30+ years as founder and CEO of Working Wardrobes, my most cherished moments are the ones surrounded by community members who care so very much about our clients as they journey to jobs and the Power of a Paycheck. We would not be able to serve thousands of clients each year without the support of our volunteers, donors, and community partners. What I’d love for your readers to understand most is that our volunteers, donors and community partners are important to us. We value them so very much.

What are your plans for the future?
It’s truly an exciting time for me, as I finally made the decision to retire at the end of 2021.
Through the years, I have learned so much about people in need and those who make a difference in our world. I want to put that learning to work in innovative ways. I’ve joined Executive Coaches of Orange County and am already coaching four nonprofit CEOs and helping them overcome challenges they face. My future will likely include initiatives to empower more women to speak up, to have their voices heard and to bring their best thoughts and actions to their personal and professional lives.

Our voices matter. All voices matter.

In my spare time, I am nearly finished with my book. It showcases the fun and grit, the gains and losses, and the highs and lows these past 30 years have brought (way more highs than lows, by the way!) It’s called Pants on Fire. I think you’ll agree that the title is more than fitting. From the first year when my closest friends wanted me to write a book until now when it is almost finished, I have charted the course and I’d love, love, love for your audience to read it, enjoy it, and be inspired and moved by it.

We have found an outstanding candidate to be our new CEO, Bonni Pomush, and we’ll spend as much time as we can beginning November 8 to download 31 years of history, contacts, ideas and memories!!! She’ll be a wonderful CEO for the next few decades.

Contact Info:

Suggest a Story: VoyageLA is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you or someone you know deserves recognition please let us know here.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

More in local stories