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West Kittanning boutique helps workers shine again

| Wednesday, June 30, 2010

WEST KITTANNING — Maria Diaz found everything she needed in the "Shine Again" secondhand clothing boutique.

The 23-year-old, unemployed, single mother from Butler found work, career development training and the right clothes to wear on the job and to job interviews, all in one place.

More importantly, Diaz found hope for her future.

Diaz has gone to work in the store through the Tri-County Workforce Investment Board's work-experience program that operates the retail clothing store, similar to Goodwill and Salvation Army thrift stores, to provide economically-disadvantaged workers such as Diaz with the opportunity to gain meaningful work experience and get back into the workforce.

The Tri-County Workforce Investment Board (WIB) is a consortium covering Armstrong, Butler and Indiana counties.

Its retail clothing store at 245 Butler Road in the Hill-Crest Center in West Kittanning will open for business July 7, and Diaz will be there doing the merchandising, inventory and sales work.

"I have no car, I don't have that much money and I have a 3-year-old son that needs taken care of," said Diaz, who is on casual public assistance receiving food stamps. "I want to get off that and get on my own two feet."

Diaz said the work-experience program and her employment through the workforce board lets her set goals for herself. She would like to mange her own store someday.

"Everything was very confusing before, when you have a child," she said. "But you set your goals of what you want to accomplish and take the steps. It not only helps you build your resume, it gets you off assistance, helps you get your own car, your own place and makes you more independent. I want to be able to do things on my own and not have to depend on everyone else to do it for me."

Amanda Wynkoop of West Kittanning is the program's operations manager. She manages the 10 female employees and the store.

"The girls that are working here are on welfare and trying to get off," Wynkoop said. "They're working here to gain some work experience. This is a good training place for them."

The merchandise sold in the store is donated by private businesses and individuals and through clothing drives at churches and hospitals. Anyone wishing to donate new or used clothing items and accessories can bring therm to the store during regular store hours.

All sales proceeds go into the program.

The jobs are temporary. The work is used as a training pool. The state's public welfare program compensates the workers while they build work experience.

"They go through a skills training course," said Mia McMillen, of the workforce investment board. "Essentially it's just them getting some experience in a real-life workplace setting, and they then use those skills to show on resumes to get a good job."

The program coexists with another program, PA Workwear, a statewide program with offices in most counties that gets people the clothing they need to go on a job interview or start a new job.

"Someone starting a job at a restaurant needed jeans and a black shirt and nonskid shoes," said Wynkoop. "Someone else needed steel-toed boots. It's given (not sold) to them here."

Wynkoop said organizers decided that making the store into a boutique atmosphere would appeal to more shoppers.

"If you wouldn't necessarily shop at a thrift store, you might come in here," Wynkoop said.

Another aspect of the boutique is an Internet cafe with tables and laptops and coffee for the store's employees and anyone in the community to help with a job search or just to get onto a computer.

"We're hoping people will just hang out," she said.

The grand opening of the boutique is at 1:30 p.m. July 7. There will be food, prizes, a ribbon cutting ceremony and plenty of clothing bargains for everyone.

Shine Again is open Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Fridays from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. It is closed Sundays and Mondays.

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