PictureBloom Executive Director Barrie Becker. Courtesy image.

Strawberry resident Sherene Chen recently passed the baton of running 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 – to a fellow Mill Valley resident.

Barrie Becker, formerly a children’s policy advocate for Council for a Strong America, took the helm of Bloom last month. She’s a graduate of Yale University and U.C. Hastings College of Law and moved to the Bay Area from Boston after college and helped create one of the country’s pre-eminent gun control organizations: the Legal Community Against Violence (also known as the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence), and now known as the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.

“I’m very excited to take the reins of an organization that is having such a powerful impact on people’s lives,” Becker says. “While there are many “dress for success”-type programs that will dress women or men, we are the only nonprofit in the country that provides free wardrobes to children and women and men who are referred by agencies or self referred.”

Formerly Image for Success, Bloom changed its name 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. 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,” Chen 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.

Image for Success was founded in 1999 by Barbara Lee, after President Clinton established the welfare-to-work program and Lee found out 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.

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. Monday, Oct. 15 is Bloom night at Iron Springs Public House at 901 4th St. in San Rafael, with 10% of all proceeds from the night going to Bloom. The organization’s annual gala and fashion show is set for April 26, 2019. MORE INFO.

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