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Orange County

Clothes Remake Shelter Women

September 20, 2004|Jennifer Mena | Times Staff Writer

The banter emanating from the makeshift dressing room Sunday at a Garden Grove Boys & Girls Club seemed typical of women trying on clothes.

"This is the most gorgeous scarf in the world," said Brenda St. Jules as she marveled at the emerald, fuchsia and gold material.

"What about a pocketbook?" asked Kristen Perinov. "You have to get this Chanel," she said, holding the blue leather bag with its trademark chain strap.

"And get the gold shoes," said Juli Cote, "not the green ones. They will be more useful. They match with more."

But the cheery atmosphere masked a serious mission. St. Jules was among 113 women, many of them victims of domestic abuse, homelessness or drug addiction, who attended Day of Self Esteem. The event, organized by Fountain Valley-based Working Wardrobes for a New Start, helps women in need get back on their feet by offering them a makeover and a new wardrobe.

"It's uplifting to find so many warmhearted people," St. Jules said. "I feel like a million bucks."

Dozens of volunteers, including Cote and Perinov, helped the women pick out clothes, apply makeup and do their hair Sunday. All the materials were donated.

The women are residents of area shelters who often lack confidence to get jobs or move on to better-paying ones, organizers said. A new look can give the women a boost in self-confidence, they said, but many of the women lack the funds to do it themselves.

"We want to be sure our clients look good. They have [little time] to make a good impression" at job interviews, said Jerri Rosen, who founded the organization 14 years ago.

It has helped nearly 20,000 people in that time, Rosen said. "The transformation that occurs in this short six hours is incredible. You can see the difference, and it's astounding."

Ouida Wallace, a 40-year-old mother and grandmother who has struggled with drug addiction, went to the Day of Self Esteem and immediately got goose bumps, she said.

"The way they greeted me, they made me feel like I'm somebody," said Wallace, who received a black-and-white pantsuit and matching beads.

In the hairstyling area, Jennifer Rodriguez, 25, was waiting for her turn.

"I'm not a makeup-clothes-hair person. I'm usually a jeans-ponytail person," said Rodriguez, whose new lavender pantsuit, beads and faux diamond pin got the thumbs up from volunteers.

"Not many times do I hear those compliments," said Rodriguez, tears welling up. "I'm living in a shelter, and it can be very depressing.... Being here is a life-changing thing."

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