For this episode of Community Conversations we spoke with Nicole Morris of Women Giving Back, a non-profit based in Sterling that provides gently used, quality clothing to women and children transitioning out of difficult situations.
Q: So tell me what the organization is about.
A: We’re a non-profit agency. We’re located in Sterling, Virginia and we provide gently used clothing to women and children at no cost. And these women and children are in crisis. We partner with over 100 shelters, other non-profit agencies, human service programs. We serve Northern Virginia Family Service’s (NVFS) SERVE shelter in Manassas and Prince William County. And it’s all by referrals – so the case managers or social workers will send in the referrals every month, and we create a registration list, and the clients come in – they shop for clothing for their family. So we know that we’re definitely serving the families that are in the most need.
Q: So how did this organization get started?
A: Well we actually started originally under another non-profit called HomeAid Northern Virginia. And they’re the charitable arm of the Northern Virginia Builder’s Industry Association, and a couple of our board members actually were on the HomeAid board as well. And HomeAid is more renovation and shelters or building shelters, but they also wanted to help and see what the need was. So they talked to a lot of the shelter providers and asked them ‘What is your greatest need?’ And a lot of them came back that the women didn’t have professional clothing to re-enter the workforce.
So they started with a little closet, inside the Northern Virginia Builder’s Association building, and it just grew from there. And this year we are actually celebrating our 10-year anniversary. We just wrapped up our Cinco de Mayo fundraiser. And actually about $103,000 is what we raised to continue to support the growth of the agency.
Q: So you probably have a wide range of different demographics of women who help and contribute to this. Tell me about how you get your donations or who’s donating, and how that kind of comes together.
A: So we are blessed with donations – they come from all different areas. There’s independent individual donors that drop off donations, but we also have a lot of schools and corporate offices that put-on donation drives for us as well. They’ll have boxes in their office or schools so that people can just drop off things. But we take gently used clothing – all women’s, children’s, up to teen boys. Clothing, shoes, accessories, purses, toiletries, things like that.
Q: Can you give me an example of one or two people that have actually received some benefits from your organization?
A: Well we actually have a lot of stories to tell. A lot of our partners too deal with domestic violence victims, and a lot of these women they flee their abusers with really nothing but the clothes on their back. So we really give them a start – getting them a complete new wardrobe right off the bat. We’ve had case managers tell us that some of the women have been in prostitution and they’re fleeing that environment as well, so they really didn’t have any appropriate clothes for interviews. So all of our case managers come back saying that the clients are grateful for the new start. And all of the clothing that we put out in the store are things that you would give your neighbor – they’re very good condition, quality clothing – that they’ll feel good about when they wear it.
Q: So how did you get involved with this?
A: Well actually I’ve been in the homeless and homeless service [area] for over six years now, on the affordable housing side. So I actually used to refer clients to Women Giving Back – some of my residents. And then I took the position about nine months ago and I’ve taken over operations and helping to coordinate the day-to-day activities of the store and the warehouse. But again, I see some of the similar faces that I’ve worked with over the years in the community, and seeing how they progress has been kind of pulling on my heartstrings – to see how they’ve evolved and growing into self-sufficiency.
Q: You’ve been doing this for a while. You know there’s a big need for this. What really drives or motivates you to keep doing this year after year? I know it’s a good cause, but even that can wear on somebody for a while.
A: Because there is a huge need and not all of the jurisdictions actually kind of show what the needs are, or they’re not advocating enough for it. But this area that we live in, the cost of living – housing alone – is a huge burden on some of the families. A lot of these families are rent-burden. And when we have case managers that are working on the family’s budget, usually a majority of it goes to housing because that’s the first thing that they want to pay for, is their rent, because they don’t want to get displaced. The next is food, utilities – usually clothing comes last – if they even have money left over for clothing.
So it kind of is an immediate impact that you’re making on the families, and it also makes them feel good about themselves. You know, when the kids go back to school, they have clothing that they feel they fit in with their peers. And we also do a lot of seasonal activities for the kids as well. We provide Halloween costumes, back-to-school supplies, and then holiday gifts for the kids as well. So really the clients is what re-energizes me all the time, is you know, hearing their stories, them succeeding, and even the volunteers – they have a heart of gold, and they’re so committed to working with the community.
Q: You have some volunteer opportunities in your organization. Can you tell us what kind of – groups, or corporate, or individuals – how can they help?
A: Well we have lots of volunteer opportunities – actually I’m the only employee – everyone else is volunteer. And the board members volunteer their time as well. So we always need volunteers for all of the store events, we need volunteers to organize, to sort through the donations, organize the store as well. Help clients shop for clothing. But our volunteers, if you want to sign up to volunteer, you just go onto our website – it’s WomenGivingBack.org – and then click on ‘volunteers’ and it will take you to our SignUp Genius page, which lists all of our volunteer opportunities, the times, and the slots.
Q: And so if a group wanted to volunteer, how could a group help you?
A: They can just give me a call, email me – we do a lot of corporate events, group volunteer activities – it’s good team building. Plus it shows the community that your organization is devoted to helping the community. But yeah, we can organize a sort for two to four hours – we can serve over 100 volunteers in our location at one time.
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