‘Next Door Couture’ drive a fashionable way to help reintegrate former female prisoners into society

By Ciara McCall, Chattanooga, TN—Former female inmates are runway ready, thanks to UTC student development and the Junior League of Chattanooga’s collaboration for “The Next Door Couture.”

With spring right around the corner, many people around Chattanooga have started the transition of trading their winter wardrobe for spring sportswear. “The Next Door Couture” collects donations of gently used clothing and accessories that people no longer want for women in need.

Laura Bass, academic advisor, brought the program to the University as part of the fall 2012 provisional class for Junior League. This is the program’s first year at UTC.

Bass said in a pre-released statement, “The Next Door Couture venture [is] to help ladies transitioning to successful lives once out of prison. Our project is an effort to establish a complete wardrobe closet for these ladies.”

Professional clothing, shoes, handbags, makeup and a small selection of menswear may be donated. The women are particularly in need of suitable attire and shoes that can be worn on job interviews.

“Many of the women came to the facility with nothing but the clothes on their back,” Bass said. “For those who have extensive needs, we are trying to give them clothes they can actually leave with.”

Carol Oglesby, coordinator of student civic engagement, physical health education and promotion said, “These women are coming from the Tennessee Department of Corrections. This transition service is based on research for the needs of women coming out of incarceration.”

According to The Next Door’s website, “Within months of release, they are moved to The Next Door facility located within the prison gates and work toward gaining job and life skills that will assist in a productive reentry into society. This Correctional Release Center is the first of its kind for the State of Tenn. and Department of Corrections, working to equip these women for independent living free from drug and alcohol abuse.”

The program initiated in the spring of 2002 in Nashville, then went to Knoxville in early 2010. The program came to the Chattanooga area in June of 2010. Chattanooga is the first of the three cities to have a living facility within the prison community.

Although the couture donation event only started at the end of February of this year, it is a proven success in its short run on campus.

“There has been a huge response to this program,” Oglesby said, “I’m very pleased with this.”

Bass said, “So far we have had a good response. There will be plenty of clothes for a wide range of tastes, sizes and age groups.”

The donation drop off boxes are located in the University Center inside the offices of Student Development and the Center for Advisement and Student Success until the end of the spring semester.

Oglesby said people may contact her if they would prefer to have the items picked up.

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