With his office radio tuned to NPR’s “The State of Things,” Ira Planner overheard a good idea: a suit drive to dress for success men looking for work or following a path to sobriety to become better fathers.
The project Planner heard about was Simply Suits by Fathers Forever, a Raleigh organization that offers a 24-week fatherhood training and education program as an alternative to jail time for fathers in legal trouble for failing to pay child support.
“You don’t hear about a whole bunch to help men out there,” said Planner, who lives in Raleigh. “That’s what caught my ear.”
Same goes for the Rev. Ricky Harrell, who leads Christ Worship Center Church on Crabtree Boulevard in Raleigh.
“Until we help men get restored, help them find their place back in society, their place back in their families to connect and reunite with their sons and daughters, the problems in our society will not change,” Harrell said.
He added that many issues around drugs and crime are “rooted in the fact that men are out of place.”
“This is one way to help men who just need a second chance,” Harrell said. “It changes men’s lives.”
Planner spread the word about Simply Suits by Fathers Forever to Beth Meyer Synagogue’s Men’s Club in Raleigh, and also to the Givers Gain Business Networking International Chapter. Harrell appealed to his church members.
“Everybody responded amazingly,” said Beth Meyer Men’s Club president Wayne Mills, who suggested the project to his synagogue group and also made requests to friends, neighbors, Facebook friends and co-workers at Cisco Systems where he works as a software developer. “I almost couldn’t keep up with it. We filled rack after rack after rack.”
The men of Beth Meyer donated 100 suits, 30 pants, 30 shirts, 40 sports jackets, 100 neckties and 20 suspenders, Mills said.
In two separate suit drives, Harrell’s parish collected nearly as much.
From Nov. 15-30, the Fathers Forever Simply Suits Drive will accept donations of gently used suits, shirts, ties and shoes at its Simply Suits location at Savanna’s, a shared retail spaces at 1000-111 Brookside Drive near the Oakwood community. Donations can be dropped off between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. Wednesdays through Sundays.
Pick-up is available for donations of 10 or more suits, said Glen Warren, who founded Fathers Forever in 2010 after raising three children as a single father who relied on child support and a career as a state social worker. The organization has graduated more than 300 men.
Graduates of the Fathers Forever program get suits and accessories for free. Anybody can stop in and buy a suit for $40. Proceeds go to Fathers Forever.
“A lot of men in our program didn’t have a suit to wear to graduation,” Warren said, noting they also needed dress clothes for job interviews, court appearances and church, a requirement of sobriety programs. “Oftentimes, men don’t dress appropriately, not because they don’t want to, but because they don’t have it.”
Bingo, said Charles Atkinson, who graduated from Fathers Forever in October and has started a cleaning business.
“It helps out a lot,” said Atkinson, 49. “What a lot of people fail to realize is that once you’re in the system, a lot of things come into play primarily due to lack of employment, and the system is even tougher when you can’t afford it.”
Fathers Forever and its Simply Suits “deals with the whole person, the underlying issues of the individual,” Atkinson said.
“It made things a lot easier, boosted my confidence and changed the way I was thinking.”
Since that August day in his office, Planner has found some good ideas for his own closet from Simply Suits.
“I’ve gone back there and gotten some sport coats and some of the other things,” he said. “It’s really good stuff and it all goes to a good cause.”