When walking into Virginia Hemby’s office in the Business and Entrepreneurship Department of the Building and Aerospace Building, a welcoming woman in a matching business suit of pink and olive green will greet you. Her professional appearance is indisputable, but this has not always been the case.
Hemby, the mastermind behind MTSU’s Raiders’ Closet program, graduated with a doctorate from The University of Southern Mississippi, but had no professional clothes for a job interview, nor money to buy them with. This, she says, is one of the reasons behind her idea to start a campus business clothing drive.
“If I had had a place where I could have gone on campus at Southern Miss and gotten a suit, it would have really solved a lot of my problems,” Hemby recalled. “That started playing in my head about what students said about not having money to buy a suit, and needing a food pantry on campus. I had some clothing in my closet that I needed to do something with. . . and I said to myself ‘Maybe there’s a way to pay it forward here.'”
Raiders’ Closet has been “paying it forward” to 37 students and counting since the spring of 2013 when the first donation kicked off. The drive accepts gently used, dry-cleaned, professional business attire to give to students who are struggling to obtain outfits for internships and post-graduate job interviews.
The donated outfits are not only necessary for successful job interviews, but they give a new confidence to the students that they help.
“It’s amazing, the transformation,” Hemby said. “There’s this thing of ‘Somebody believes in me enough to ensure that I’m going to put my best foot forward, so it makes me believe in myself even more.’ And that’s really what we’re trying to accomplish here. We want them to feel confident when they walk in the doorway of that company for that interview.”
Monetary donations and business-casual clothes are gladly accepted at Raiders’ Closet, as well. Since the program receives no outside funding, and its primary goal is to give free suits to disadvantaged students, any business-casual donations received are sold on-site, with the proceeds going to buy more professional attire. Hemby is proud of the program’s progress, but hopes to see it grow in the future.
“Right now we depend on donations, but it would be nice if we were actually a line-item on the budget,” Hemby said. “I understand why it would be difficult for the university to do that [right now], but I do think at some point down the road, it would be something they should strongly consider doing.”
At the moment, however, Raiders’ Closet is in full swing as a self-supported entity. Although the suits are entirely free, Hembysaid she is not worried about the program being taken advantage of.
“I trust every student that walks in this door,” Hemby states. “When you get that job and work for a few years, and you can afford it, send me a gently used professional suit, or send me the cash to buy one, and pay it forward to the next set of students that come behind you who are also going to need a suit. That’s all I ask.”
To make a donation, contact Ms. Jaye Kiblinger (Raiders’ Closet Coordinator) at (615) 898-9202 or Virginia Hemby at (615) 898-2369. Clothing drop-off is located in the Building and Aerospace Building Room N429.
Contact Features editor Dylan Skye Aycock at firstname.lastname@example.org
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