Above: illustration by Lauren Baker.
By Jessica Johnson
FRESNO– This is not about borrowing your sister’s clothes. Many women do not have the luxury of that perfect interview-ready outfit, which is where Fresno-based My Sister’s Closet (MSC) comes in.
The organization, located at the United Faith Christian Fellowship, provides professional clothing, resume building and interview workshops for women entering the workforce or professionally advancing.
Yamilette Rodriguez founded My Sister’s Closet in 2008, when she acted on her feeling that women in her zip code (93702 in Southeast Fresno) “are some of the most impoverished in the nation.” Her faith informed her choice, saying that she “felt God’s call to this ministry.”
She set out to provide a safe place for women in her community to be encouraged and supported in their career goals. Rodriguez believes that these women are “not just in our neighborhood, but are our neighbors.”
Rodriguez’s first call was to her friend Cindy Jurado, who became the first volunteer intern. After listening to what women in their community needed in order to advance, MSC started collecting “gently used professional clothing,” as Jurado puts it.
“The unemployed often struggle with professional clothing and nowhere else in the valley provides professional clothing in this way,” Jurado said.
Clothing was only the beginning. Jurado recalls that they quickly realized that these women could benefit from additional support in order to move ahead in life.
Now MSC’s education programming focuses on straightforward topics such as resume writing and interview skills, plus health, financial literacy, professional appearance, and spiritual development.
Jurado believes that MSC communicates to these women “they are worthy of this care and attention.” So far, MSC has reached about 120 women with their career development services.
Upon receipt of these clothes and graduation from the career education program, participants proudly display them at a fashion show, arranged after the career development conference. This fashion show comes complete with hair and makeup services donated by professionals in the Fresno community.
After working as an unofficial intern for two years, Jurado joined the MSC board in 2010 as an original member. Rodriguez is appreciative that her organization’s board supports her original mission. “They ask ‘what does justice look like?’” she said.
Jurado gave the example of a woman from Belize was a successful participant in the program during their first year of operation. This woman was found in indentured servitude in Clovis and was issued a T visa through the Economic Opportunities Commission, which is issued to victims of human trafficking.
Jurado is proud of what MSC was able to offer this individual, saying, “Someone cared for her.”
Women who use MSC range from early twenties to mid-forties. Some are college graduates, and some are escaping abusive relationships. No matter where they are coming from, Jurado sees these as “hardworking and smart” women who “want the best for their families.” In the end, “they are trying to advance in life and that’s a good thing.”
Anyka Harris is one of those women. After finishing at College of the Sequoias, Harris continued her education at Fresno Pacific University (FPU) in order to give her five children a better life. During her time at FPU, she lived out of her car while her children stayed with family friends.
Harris finished school and sought professional clothing and tips on dressing appropriately for the workplace from MSC.
Harris emphasizes that instead of a hand out, the MSC program represents “a hand up.” In response to the way this program impacted her life, Harris began her own program in 2014, called My Sista’s Closet and based in Tulare and Visalia.
Harris is grateful for the work of MSC, saying “I thank God that Yami (Rodriguez) was obedient to the call on her life, to the vision that God gave her and that she went for it.”
As for the women that have benefitted from this support: “I don’t know where they would be without it,” said Harris.
To donate to My Sister’s Closet, email [email protected] to arrange a pickup or drop off a donation on Sunday mornings at United Faith Christian Fellowship.
About the author: I am graduating this May from Fresno Pacific University with a BA in Communication Studies. In October, I’m lucky enough to be getting married to my favorite person. I will forever be obsessed with all things coffee and Harry Potter. I belong on the beach with a great book and even greater company.