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Closet ready to help out

3/18/2014

ELIZABETH GOLDEN

egolden@dailynews.net

From skirts to ties, business attire might be the staple of the average closet, but women living through domestic violence situations often have difficulty putting together an outfit for an interview.

Jana's Closet provides "gently worn" professional clothes to women as they prepare to enter or re-enter the work force.

A group of six Leadership 310 students at Fort Hays State University, in conjunction with Trinity Lutheran Church, are working on revamping the closet to make the atmosphere more appealing and comfortable for women who visit the closet.

Jana's Closet was created in 2012 to honor Jana Mackey, who was murdered by an ex-boyfriend in 2008.

"It started after one of our members lost a lot of weight and had nice clothes to get rid of," said Anna Towns, Trinity Lutheran Church secretary. "Jana had been a member here. We all knew her story. Christie Brungardt -- Jana's mother -- was always saying Jana was looking for clothes for people who would need a nice outfit for court and stuff like that."

Mackey was a 25-year-old University of Kansas law student, and an advocate for women's rights. She had spent years volunteering to aid victims of sexual assault and domestic violence, Brungardt said.

"Jana was actually my babysitter when I was younger," Towns said. "I hadn't stayed in touch as we got older. After she passed, I found out about her advocacy work, and I was extremely proud. It influences me to get involved in that."

The closet serves seven to 10 women a month. Most are from domestic violence situations, but the closet also serves homeless women and students who might not have access to professional clothing.

The Leadership 310 group is comprised of Rebekah Ingram, Lizette Avalos, Alexis Mesmer, Jessica Owens, Alexis Li, Jenny Shen and Rebecca Urban.

The group is currently working on reconstruction, which will include painting and remodeling. They also are working on increasing the social media presence by creating a Facebook page. The page has received more than 120 "likes" in two weeks. The group is also in the process of creating a binder with basic makeup tips, and a brochure with interview tips.

"We're trying to create sustainability for when we're gone," said Mesmer, a junior. "We're talking to sororities to see if they would be able to do minor things, like update the Facebook with pictures and interview tips."

Mesmer chose the project because of Jana's story.

"It's a good one," she said. "Her mom is amazing, and I wanted to do anything I could to help promote it."

Avalos, junior, chose the project for a different reason.

"In high school, there was a teacher who was really passionate about getting people involved," she said. "We had a lot of kids who were 'thugs,' and she would get them ties, belts and dress up clothes because they didn't have them at home. Providing professional clothes really got to me since I've known kids who really needed them. The need is definitely there."

The group is working on creating flyers to promote the closet, which will be translated into Spanish and Chinese, in addition to English.

"That's something really good that our group can do," Avalos said. "We have diversity, so we can reach more people."

Towns believes the closet will continue to grow after the leadership team finishes its semester-long project,

"I see us doing more with getting people involved in the work force," she said. "Maybe doing mock interviews, and continuing to grow and serve more people."

A fashion show with clothes from Jana's Closet will be at 3:30 p.m. April 26 in Cody Commons at FHSU. A clothes donations drive will also be in April.