One of Santa Barbara County’s more unusual specialty services isn’t leaving, but it is merging with nonprofit charity the Unity Shoppe in an effort to continue serving the people who need its help. JobSmart, which for the past 15 years has supplied low-income people with the kind of clothes they can wear to job interviews, announced this week that it would be leaving its 911 De La Vina Street location and moving into the Unity Shoppe offices, located at 1219 State Street. High rent had been making it difficult for JobSmart to remain open, but this merge will prevent the area’s needy from losing their chance of getting a leg up.
Unity Shoppe executive director Tom Reed said he was thrilled with the merge. “I just think it’s wonderful,” he said, noting that reducing redundancy and overhead are essential to the nonprofit world. Reed said that Unity Shoppe served 16,300 people last year and that to add professional clothing to the list of services it provides “seems like a natural extension of what we’re doing.”
Gail Tyler, current JobSmart executive director, said she’d be helping the transition, which will be between the time the JobSmart location closes at the end of August and sometime after Labor Day, when it will resume business at Unity Shoppe. Tyler - who has worked at JobSmart since 1997, when she retired from work as a paralegal, and who has served as the nonprofit’s executive director for the past five years - said she hoped Unity Shoppe would retain the core group of 10 or so volunteers who currently staff the place.
Tyler said that JobSmart serves an average of 600 people a year. Clients must be referred to the organization by a social services group - like Catholic Charities, the Salvation Army, or many others - before they can benefit from the classy duds. Those actively seeking employment get three outfits that they could wear to a job interview. If they secure the position and can show proof of employment, clients may then return and get three more.
“Many had never been able to dress appropriately for a job interview [before coming to JobSmart],” Tyler said, noting that 60 percent of those who benefited from this service did, in fact, get a job.
“The beauty of the program is [allowing] people with good quality clothing the satisfaction of knowing that it went to really help someone,” Tyler added.
JobSmart chiefly serves the needy of Santa Barbara County, though it occasionally helps clients from Oxnard and Ventura. Taylor said she didn’t know if a similar service existed in San Luis Obispo or Ventura counties.
Tyler said though she wasn’t sure exactly how this service would work once under the Unity Shoppe umbrella she hoped it would be more or less the same.
When speaking to the Independent, Reed noted that absorbing JobSmart was not the only new venture Unity Shoppe was embarking upon: Two months ago, it began a program called Backyard Harvest, which allows people who might have fruit trees on their property to have someone come pick the fruit, leave a box on their doorstep and have the remainder donated to the less fortunate. Those interested in that program can contact project director Doug Hagensen at 884-8448.
Those having unwanted clothes that are of a high enough quality that one might wear them to job interviews can drop them off at the Unity Shoppe office.