Bloom, the San Rafael-based nonprofit that provides free wardrobes and life skills training to men, women and families transitioning to a life of self-reliance and looking for a job, has plenty to celebrate in 2019. The organization, founded as Image for Success in 1999, turns 20 this year, and has just hired new executive director Lenice Smith to build on the success established by Sherene Chen.

A native of Flint, Mich., Smith has lived and worked in Marin for more than 18 years, largely in the healthcare field. She’ll oversee the organization’s operations and community outreach and develop resources toward its strategic goals. Smith says she was an occasional shopper at Bloom’s retail store long before she accepted her new role of executive director. Smith says she enjoys board games with her three sons and singing at local venues around town.
Barbara Lee founded the nonprofit after President Clinton established the welfare-to-work program and she learned that one San Rafael agency had 40 women ready to go to work but didn’t have any business clothes. Prior to Image for Success’ creation, Cal Works (a welfare-to-work program) had provided each of their clients with vouchers to shop at a local discount store. But Lee wanted to create a more positive and personalized shopping experience for these women who were struggling to meet the serious challenges in their lives.

The organization morphed into Bloom in 2016 to reflect its broader array of services designed to have a direct, tangible impact on people’s lives at a critical moment: people and families transitioning to a life of self-reliance and looking for a job, whether it’s a person just released from prison, someone recovering from substance abuse or a victim of domestic abuse seeking independence. 

Bloom is set to host a number of 20th anniversary events in 2019, and the annual Bloom Spring Luncheon (fashion show) is set for April 26. They’ll also offer financial and career literacy workshops in 2019. 

Located at 1557 Fourth Street in downtown San Rafael, Bloom runs a retail store that accepts donated clothing. They also take a lot of that clothing to the clients that are referred to them through a variety of social services agencies like Adopt a Family of Marin, Center for Domestic Peace, Community Action Marin and the Marin Employment Connection, as well as school administrators, clergy and teachers.

Clients can come back to Bloom every season, and the organization’s volunteer dressers are trained to deliver a “Nordstroms-like experience,” the organization says. “They act as personal shoppers for their clients. And those clients feel really respected, which is part of our mission. It’s not just about clothes.

Over the years, the program grew, expanding to include men in 2005, and then relocated to Fourth Street in 2007, allowing the organization to open a consignment store. In 2011, bolstered by revenue from that store, Image for Success hit a milestone of having served 10,000 clients. The organization continued to expand on its partnerships with referring agencies, and had served more than 15,000 clients by the end of 2015. 

The 411: Bloom is constantly seeking funding and clothing donations to continue to serve its clients and expand its services. The organization’s annual gala and fashion show is set for April 26, 2019. MORE INFO.

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