The hope, says MenzFit founder and CEO Rhonda Willingham, is to gather enough bathroom essentials to make 35 to 50 grooming kits to be presented to graduates of MenzFit’s pilot program, Work in Progress: Pathways to Employment Project, which is set to kick off in early September at State Correctional Institution Phoenix, formerly known as Graterford Prison.
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“Men get lost in the grooming fray because people think they don’t need anything," said Willingham, who has headed MenzFit for 12 years. The nonprofit is known for providing professional clothing, career development, and financial literacy programs for disadvantaged men who are trying to get back into the work force. These are the guys, Willingham said, the metrosexual trend missed.
“But it’s important,” Willingham said, “that these guys have good grooming products because it makes them feel whole and complete. And it’s one less thing they have to worry about when they get back.”
The Work in Progress Project will work like this: four months before their scheduled release, the men, many of whom have been behind bars for decades, will start a series of workshops designed to teach them how to find work and perform the activities of daily living in a radically different world from the one they may remember. Willingham is planning to bring in experts to talk to the men about mental health, social media, and other tricky issues they may have to navigate as free men.
It is Willingham’s hope the men will develop a road map to success. But that can be impossible when one’s basic needs aren’t met. And that’s MenzFit’s specialty. Upon successful completion of the Work in Progress Project, the men will receive a MenzFit suit — the organization takes suit donations year round — and the cosmetic care package. Willingham is also on the hunt for socks and underwear. Belts are on the list, too, as well as ties.
“When I left jail, all I had were some Puma shorts and sneakers,” said Giovanni Reid, who was released from prison two years ago after serving 26 years. He will now work with Willingham, counseling men for the project. “I didn’t know how I was going to get everything together I needed to look for a job. These things may seem small to the everyday person who has means to it. But for somebody that doesn’t, it’s very important.”