first_img“I feel I owe my life to First Day,” said Zaragoza. [email protected] (562) 698-0955 ext. 3051160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! WHITTIER – In minutes, Vivi Zaragoza went from sweats and an old T-shirt to full-blown business attire. “This is very comfortable,” Zaragoza said, choking back tears as she modeled a pair of black slacks and a blazer at a Whittier transitional homeless shelter where she lives. “I could actually be in these clothes for 12 hours and have no complaints.” After witnessing women going for job interviews in ill-fitting clothes, Andrea Avila, an executive associate at the Whittier Area First Day Coalition’s shelter, said she she came up with the idea of creating a “clothing library” for the shelter’s women residents. “My dream was to have the ability to loan, at any minute, something that fits and looks good for, say, court or an interview,” said Avila, whose dream resulted in the shelter’s First Impressions program and a closet-full of brand new suits and shoes in every size, ready and available whenever shelter clients need them. She opened a large closet to reveal racks of slacks, blazers, blouses and shoes, plus watches, jewelry and perfume. To fund the program, Avila applied for and received a $2,000 grant from the Quakertown Professionals, an auxiliary arm of the Assistance League of Whittier, which holds fundraisers to help local charities. Many of the accessories, including purses and watches, were donated by JC Penny in the Whittwood Mall, where Avila purchased the clothing. With the store manager’s help, Avila and Quakertown members, including Mary Kay Snyder, Kathy Luciano and Leslie Peauroi, were able to buy everything they needed for the program in just one trip. Avila started working at the First Day shelter about four years ago, after leaving a high-paying job at automaker Lexus’ national headquarters. She discovered the facility through her mother, a former shelter resident. Soon, Avila was volunteering there and was later offered a paid position. “I left Lexus to come here – everybody thought I was crazy,” she said. “I’m still reeling from the financial part of it. I left a lot of things to be here, and it’s been the best decision of my life. If I can just give one person the ability to break the cycle, that’s going to affect so many people after them.” Count Zaragoza as one person Avila has personally helped. Avila got her get off the streets and enrolled into First Day’s shelter in June. Recently, Zaragoza underwent open heart surgery, a life-and-death procedure she probably would not have had had she remained on the streets, she said. last_img read more

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