After 31 years, Working Wardrobes CEO Jerri Rosen has some thoughts to share
By Orange County on December 30, 2021
Jerri Rosen steps down Friday from one of the best known non-profits in Orange County, Working Wardrobes, which she founded in 1990.
What began as a one-time event to help women coping with domestic violence, expanded into an ongoing operation to assist women and men overcome issues such as substance abuse, incarceration and homelessness. Over the past 31 years, Rosen’s organization has helped close to 115,000 people overcome adversity and secure jobs.
During that time, Working Wardrobes itself also has faced challenges, including a devastating fire last year.
Working Wardrobes offers workshops and other career services, including professional attire from some 500,000 clothing items donated each year. The non-profit has a donation center in Irvine, a career center in Santa Ana and four thrift shops: the Hanger Outlets in Costa Mesa and Garden Grove, and the Hanger Boutiques in Laguna Niguel and Tustin.
The organization serves clients in Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties, partnering with dozens of social service agencies, shelters and others to provide services.
“Our work is really around getting the clients work force ready,” Rosen said. “We’re working with residential shelters, recovery homes, wherever people are going through some kind of a challenge. It may be veterans who have come back from the service and fallen on difficult times. It’s a very broad spectrum of people.”
“The clothing is like the last piece of a really great puzzle when we put people back together,” she added.
Helping out are some 2,500 to 3,000 volunteers, including long-time volunteers. “We couldn’t do the work without them,” Rosen said, adding that it’s important to acknowledge and thank each one of them.
The Register recently caught up with Rosen to talk about the non-profit’s history, accomplishments and future. Here are highlights of that conversation.
After a Feb. 2 fire that destroyed the organization’s Irvine headquarters and amid the pandemic, Jerri Rosen, the CEO and founder of Working Wardrobes, rebuilt the organization and reopened in the early fall. “We are beyond blessed with donations, good quality donations,” Rosen said. “The community really rallied.” (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)
Jerri Rosen, the founder and CEO of Working Wardrobes in Irinve, will step down from the nonprofit at the end of the year. Her successor is Bonni Pomush, executive director of The Samueli Center for Progressive Judaism. (File photo: Cindy Yamanaka, Orange County Register)
Jerri Rosen, CEO of Working Wardrobes during a press conference in Santa Ana, CA, on Monday, Feb 3, 2020. Working Wardrobes lost everything in at their Irvine headquarters in a fire on Sunday. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)
Jerri Rosen, CEO of Working Wardrobes, left, gets a hug from the Justin Frame, Working Wardrobes board chair during a press conference in Santa Ana, CA, on Monday, Feb 3, 2020. Working Wardrobes lost everything in at their Irvine headquarters in a fire on Sunday. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)
Working Wardrobes Founder and CEO, Jerri Rosen at the new temporary Working Wardrobes location at the Goodwill of Orange County in Santa Ana on Thursday, February 20, 2020. The warehouse and offices of the nonprofit Working Wardrobes was destroyed by fire (Photo by Leonard Ortiz, Orange County Register/SCNG)
Q: You leave such a legacy behind that I’d like to back to the beginning, more than 30 years ago, when you launched a day of self esteem event that brought in 67 women. Why did you create Working Wardrobes?
It was going to be a one-time only event. Can you imagine? I did served on another nonprofit board. My background is in marketing and advertising. We did a lot of work for them, videos and promotions. They weren’t the most gracious with their appreciation. They thought volunteers would get their thanks when they got to heaven. It started to feel like a thankless job. And after a couple of years, several of my chums who were on the board resigned. We just felt we needed to do something. We loved volunteering. We wanted to make sure we could do something with our talents. We were mostly entrepreneurs and we wanted to give back.
One of my chums gave me an article about a woman in North Carolina who would provide clothing for women in an abuse facility if they needed to go to court or to an interview… I thought this is a group of people who really need a boost to their self esteem. So what could we do? Let’s do their hair. Let’s give them a makeover, so they could feel more confident and then maybe they won’t go back to their abusive relationship. And so we set about trying to figure out how to do an event…
Q: So the original mission was to help battered women. But you expanded in so many different ways. Can you talk about how the organization evolved?