Military Spouse Magazine

FEB 2019

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O U R L I V E S An estimated 200,000 or more service members take the leap into civilian life each year. One challenge transitioning veterans face is learning how to dress in their new workplaces. Service members in Washington state can find assistance overcoming this challenge from the Suits for Service Members program. Suits is a unique, all volunteer 501 (c)(3) program under the Cap- tain Meriwether Lewis Chapter of the Association of the United States Army (AUSA). The nonprofit collects civilian clothing to help transi- tioning service members "dress for success" in their interviews and move confidently into their new norm of civilian employment. HOW SUITS GOT ITS START In 2009, while volunteering at the old Walter Reed Army Hospital, retired Army spouse, Mary Findlay, heard many service members comment that they had never worn a suit, so she began to put together a plan to help outfit them. When she moved to Steilacoom, Wash., Mary decided to transform her idea into reality from the garage and first floor of her new home near Joint Base Lewis-McChord (JBLM). "People left clothing donations in bags outside her garage door and Mary herself would launder shirts when needed, iron clothes, and outfit service members," said retired military spouse Denise Dhane, one of the volunteers with whom Mary shared her developing concept. "It was Mary's idea of a way to say thank you for their service, set them up for suc- cess in the civilian world, and send them on their way. As founder and director of Suits for Service Members, Mary be- came their virtual personal shopper." Although she first began to imple- ment her concept by volunteering at JBLM's Warrior Transition Battalion, Mary wrote and submitted a proposal to AUSA. By 2011, the Suits for Service Members became official under AUSA's aegis, serving both men and women in all branches of the service. Suiting Up How one nonprofit answers the call when service members need civilian businesswear. By Joan Brown, Air Force Spouse (Retired) BURSTING AT THE SEAMS Soon the nonprofit outgrew its space in the Warrior Transition Battalion and moved to the Hawk Transition Center on JBLM. But the nonprofit still occupied a large area of Mary's home. As donations continued to mount, the Town of Steilacoom let the nonprofit sort and store clothing in the basement of the town hall. To cope with the volume of jackets, slacks, shirts, ties, and dresses, clothing retailer Men's Wearhouse, Mary and other donors supplied racks. Individuals donated most of the clothing, but group clothing drives and donations from Nord- strom department stores and Men's Wearhouse also contributed. The group has outfitted more than 7,750 transitioning service members to date. Many transitioning service members who benefitted from the program send notes to let the vol- unteers and donors know how much their help has made a difference. When the nonprofit found that, because of being 6 foot, 5 inches tall, Army Staff Sgt. Adam Elliott couldn't be fitted with any of the clothes they had, Men's Wearhouse generously stepped forward at Mary's request to provide two suits. Suits provided shirts, ties, belts and shoes to fit. Along with his thank you, the soldier sent photos of himself dressed in the clothes that contrib- uted to his job success in Texas. Any active duty service or active Guard member honorably transitioning out of the military into the civilian workforce within six months may get two business outfits at no cost to them via Suits. Photos provided by Joan Brown 24 MILITARYSPOUSE.COM / FEBRUARY 2019

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