Awesome Foundation Grant Award Winner: Casual For A Cause Closet

Written by: Brandi Malarkey

The staff at Preference Employment Solutions are turning an empty room into an additional opportunity for giving.

An initiative to earn money for a local non-profit by paying to wear jeans on Fridays swiftly turned into what the Preference Employment Solutions’ staff calls their “Casual for a Cause” program. Realizing that many of the people who entered their doors every day were in need of extra resources for everyday needs, employees at Preference wanted a way to directly assist those they served.

From obtaining required safety gear to simple transportation, there can be a number of hurdles that make starting a new job difficult. In matching potential employees with jobs, the Preference team has learned over the years that many job seekers who were qualified and able to start work right away often lacked the personal resources to do so. “We found ourselves trying to help our candidates from our own pockets,” Becky Swoboda, Project Manager at Preference Employment Solutions, said. “If somebody needed help, we’d often reach into our own personal wallets.”

Through Preference’s Casual for a Cause program, employees are able to make a larger impact. “Every year, the team has the ability to contribute to the program, and since the beginning, we have experienced a 100% participation rate. The company also allocates funds each year, so the impact for the Casual for a Cause program can be felt at a greater level,” Beck said.

The staff at Preference have used these funds in a variety of ways to assist their job seekers including providing gas money, grocery gift cards, steel-toed boots, safety goggles, and more. With the varied needs of their clients in mind, the staff has been looking for a way to expand on the help they currently offer. When a large room in their building ended up empty and unused, the idea for the “Casual for a Cause Closet” was born.

With the assistance of a $1000 gift from the Cass Clay chapter of the Awesome Foundation, who named the Casual for a Cause Closet project as one of their two March 2022 grantees, Preference staff will now remodel the previously empty room to be a small “store. Job seekers can receive items they may need to start employment or for their family so they can focus on work rather than being consumed by worrying about the basic needs for their kids.

Becky is looking forward to the room remodel. “We want to create a nice space that is not just a room with random shelves. A space where a team member can bring a candidate in a confidential way to choose some of the things they may need immediately. We want this space to embody how much we care for those we serve and the people we work with.”

In addition to providing gas, grocery gift cards and money, the goal is to stock the new “closet” with a number of items like safety equipment, basic necessities like non-perishable food items, personal care products, backpacks filled with school supplies, and care packages for families with children who may need a little something to brighten their days.

“We want employees to focus on their new career which can be stressful all on its own. Throw in being worried about gas, lunch, or what to wear, and that can freeze people from getting started. We want to take away those extra stressors to help them focus on being successful. This won’t be a huge space for clothing, but rather a space filled with a variety of things,” Becky said.

After remodeling the new Closet, the Preference Employment Solutions staff will use the remaining funds from the Awesome Foundation grant to assist with the purchase of the initial stock of items.

“Now we will be able to have an entire space associated solely for giving back,” Becky said. “It will be a much smaller version of some of the amazing programs we already have in our community; it will allow us to make an impact to those we serve in different ways. This closet will be a little vision of love, and we are so excited for that.”

The Cass Clay chapter of the Awesome Foundation awards a $1,000 gift each month for awesome ideas of all sorts. Grant recipients do not need to be associated with a non-profit. Applications can be made at cassclay

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