Sitting at the oak dining room table in her new two-bedroom apartment on the South Side, Denise Randle reflects on all she has to be grateful for this holiday season.
Her fiancée of one year.
Her two sons, Timothy and Carl.
Her 11 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.
And her job as a case manager for the Haymarket Center, an alcohol and drug treatment organization.
Three years ago she had none of these.
“I had no job. I had no money,” Randle recalled. “I had come out of prison. I didn’t have anything.”
After serving 18 months behind bars for stealing clothes-items she then sold to buy heroin-Randle, 55, said she needed to rediscover her self-confidence-and was able to do so at Bottomless Closet.
“It’s a self-esteem builder, that’s what Bottomless Closet is,” Randle said.
Started in 1991 by five Chicago business women, Bottomless Closet’s mission is to lift Chicago-area women out of poverty by providing them with professional clothing to wear to job interviews.
“An interview is intimidating in the best of times,” said Jude Andrews, the nonprofit’s chief executive officer. “But if you feel you’re wearing a suit that’s pretty rundown or pretty dowdy you’re not going to give your best.”
Can a pantsuit really make a difference? Absolutely, insists Randle.
“I went on an interview and I had some slacks and a sweater on, but when I went to Bottomless Closet I had a full suit, earrings, everything. So I felt wonderful,” she said. “I felt like, I’m gonna get this job. I’m walkin’ in here, I’m dressed for success. I looked like: I’m comin’ for this job.”
Six months later, Randle reported for her first day of work at the Haymarket Center. Randle’s relationship with Bottomless Closet did not end with her first visit.
All clients can receive clothes three times-when they’re looking for work, once they have their first paycheck, and again after three months on the job. In each visit they receive three full outfits and accessories: shoes, jewelry, coats and purses.
For Andrews, she sees a transformation in clients when they come in with their first paycheck. “It’s really heartwarming to see how they have changed their whole demeanor,” she said. “You can see a whole new lease on life in them.”
For Randle, Bottomless Closet was only the beginning of her transformation.
In 2008, at the age of 53, she graduated from St. Leonard’s Adult High School. Diploma in hand, she enrolled at Harold Washington College and is now two semesters closer to a degree in social services.
While at St. Leonard’s she met her fiancée, Leslie, a CTA employee. Randle said they’re planning to marry Feb. 5, one day before his birthday and two days before hers. And after years of being estranged, she recently reconnected with some of her grandchildren through Facebook.
When she’s not working or hitting the books, Randle volunteers for Chicago Coalition for the Homeless and advocates for affordable housing. She also gives back to Bottomless Closet by speaking at fundraisers, as well as shopping at monthly sales the nonprofit conducts to raise money and make room for newly donated clothing.
“I love, I love, I love them. I do, I really do,” Randle said. “And I’ll always do what all I can for them.”