Empty closet and full hearts – Dress for Success resonates with Metrolinx staffer

Amanda Henriques is changing lives, one blazer at a time.

Apart from what time you wake up, it’s likely the first choice of your day.

You stand in front of a closet, or dig into a crowded drawer, and with a sigh of having to make the decision, pick out what you’ll wear to work. Figuring out what’s clean and what’s been worn recently, is a chore of choice – a burden of options.

But what if there is no alternative on those hangers or in that drawer? That the answer to the question “what am I going to wear today” is the same as yesterday, and likely the same as tomorrow – because there is only one or two outfits.

IMG_5353

Metrolinx employee Amanda Henriques sits beside donated clothing. (Photo by Sara Wilbur)

That was a reality for Metrolinx employee, Amanda Henriques, who moved to Canada when she was 17 years old with only the clothes she had on. Her own journey, and the impact she’s had on the lives of others, is both an inspiration as well as a reminder that clothes don’t make the person – but having some options is one less struggle.

Henriques was born in Canada, but her family moved to Trinidad, where her father is from, when she was 14 years old.

“When their marriage fell apart, my mom, my sister and I moved back to Canada,” recalls the administrative assistant, who works in Rail Fleet Maintenance for Metrolinx.

“We had nothing.”

When Henriques made her way from Trinidad to Toronto with her mom and sister in 1999, they had no money for clothes. Family members bought them one outfit each – jeans, sweater, winter jacket, and winter shoes. Henriques, who had dropped out of high school to work and support her family, wore that one outfit every day for about four months.

“It took a while for us to build our clothing collection,” says Henriques. “Every paycheque we could buy one piece of clothing – one paycheque, one shirt; next paycheque, one pair of pants. It took about a year before we had even a half-decent rotation of clothing.”

When she joined Metrolinx in 2012, she was worlds away from the teenager who wore the same clothes every day and she knew she had to find a way to give back.

“When you wear the same outfit every day, people talk about you. They wonder ‘what is wrong with this person?” says Henriques. “Nobody asks about your situation. It’s very isolating.”

IMG_5352

Men and women’s clothing have been donated to help those starting careers without proper attire. Since 2009, the Toronto chapter of Dress For Success has helped more than 10,000 women. The similar Dress Your Best project collects clothing for men. (Photo by Sara Wilbur)

But when she heard of a project called, Dress for Success, she knew her story wasn’t so rare. Says Henriques: “These women were telling my story and I had to get involved.”

In 2014, she suggested Metrolinx sponsor a clothing drive, after seeing an advertisement for Dress for Success on television.

Dress for Success, designed for women, and Dress Your Best, created for men, are organizations that help people prepare to return to the workplace after long absences. It’s a holistic approach that helps candidates with their resume, prepares them for interviews and builds their wardrobe to start their new job. And it’s free.

“I thought it was a brilliant idea and such an important charity for marginalized men and women getting into the workforce,” explains Henriques. “It was a way for Metrolinx employees to give back without needing to give money.

“I’ve been in the same position as some of these people. I didn’t want handouts, I just wanted help to make it to the next step. I think (Dress for Success) is a great way of doing that.”

Henriques ran the first Dress for Success/Dress your Best clothing drive at Metrolinx in early 2015 and collected 85 boxes of clothing. This year, she has sent out 100 empty boxes across the Metrolinx network and hopes to get 100 full boxes back.

“We all have clothes we don’t need; we all buy way more than we should,” she points out. “Donating those pieces allows us to be part of someone’s success story.”

IMG_5368

Amanda Henriques goes through some of the clothing donated by fellow Metrolinx employees. (Photo by Sara Wilbur.)

Sometimes, standing in the doorway to your closet, the decision of what to put on for work today may seem like another small task you don’t really want to make again. But Henriques, and others who support the project, know having no choices is the far bigger burden to wear.

Find out more about Dress For Success/Dress Your Best by clicking here.

 Story by Sara Wilbur, Metrolinx communications coordinator.