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Career Closet helps people prepare for the workforce

Date: 3/13/2012

March 14, 2012

By Lori Szepelak

HOLYOKE — First impressions on a job interview are critical for today's job applicants, and AmeriCorps VISTA members Lauren Brunault and Christopher Medina have dedicated a year of their lives to ensure that the Holyoke Career Closet at Holyoke Community College (HCC) is a success.

Brunault, of Palmer, and Medina of South Hadley, are college graduates who wanted to make a difference in the lives of others and found themselves both linked up last year with Providence Ministries for the Needy (PMN), Inc., a local host site for VISTAs. PMN formed a partnership with HCC in 2011 to provide career-appropriate outfits to students with scheduled job, internship, co-op and practicum interviews.

"PMN provides administrative support and assists with clothing for the project," Christine Burns, PMN's director of development and special projects, said. Burns works closely on the project with Dorothy Blair, HCC's senior special programs coordinator.

"Lauren is very business oriented," Burns said during an interview with Reminder Publications. "She thinks clearly and sees the big picture. She believes that everyone is entitled to equal opportunities."

Burns noted that Medina is "great with people and being a Hispanic male who is a product of Holyoke High School, he provides the male role model for this project that many young men need."

During a recent Monday afternoon visit to the site, it was apparent that most of the clothing on display was geared toward the winter. As the spring season quickly approaches, the project is in need of new or gently used professional attire, especially in small and plus sizes.

Brunault's wish list for women includes dress shoes, blouses, slacks and new hosiery.

Medina's wish list for men's attire includes khakis in any size, polo shirts, belts, shoes, and new black socks.

"I don't have any shoes for men," he said.

Additionally, briefcases, portfolios and legal pads are accessories that would be graciously welcomed, noted Brunault.

Each year, AmeriCorps offers 75,000 opportunities for adults of all ages and backgrounds to serve through a network of partnerships with local and national nonprofit groups. Both Brunault and Medina agree that their VISTA service offers them real-world experiences which will help them in their future career endeavors. In return for their service, they receive a modest living allowance and health benefits, and at the end of their one-year commitment, will have the option of receiving a Segal AmeriCorps Education Award or post-service stipend.

During the interview, both individuals beamed as they talked about their roles and their goals for the project's first year. At press time, they had served approximately 15 clients.

"It's our job to ensure our clients have a successful interview," Medina said.

Brunault echoed those sentiments.

"The project is important because it helps level the playing field," she said. "Everyone needs to feel confident during the interview process."

Medina added that the Holyoke Career Closet is easily accessible and is ideal because it serves both men and women.

"Our life is VISTA and we move fast when a referral comes in for someone who has a job interview set," he said.

VISTA members generally focus their efforts on building the organizational, administrative, and financial capacity of organizations that fight illiteracy, improve health services, foster economic development, and assist low-income communities. Brunault and Medina are also trained to assist individuals who are applying for SNAP benefits.

In addition to their full-time work hours, Brunault and Medina are working on fund-raisers this spring to help raise money for the Holyoke Career Closet. Medina, an amateur boxer, is planning a boxing event at the Holyoke Boys and Girls Club, and Brunault is putting together a craft and fashion show.

For these two enterprising young people, their passion for making a difference in the lives of others is apparent in their every move for the Holyoke Career Closet.

"We started the program from the ground up and will hand it off to another individual in the future because the project needs to survive and grow," Medina said.

The Holyoke Career Closet is located in the Kittredge Center on Homestead Avenue. Hours are Monday, Wednesday and Friday, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

For more information, contact Brunault or Medina at 552-2564 or via email to .

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