BETHEL, CONN. – Kewon Potts was beaming broadly as he flung open the door to his “fitting room” and stepped out in a new suit that perfectly fit his broad torso.
“OOOOHs” and “AAAAHs” greeted the Navy vet, who hopes to get back into the job market after some tough years since leaving the military. “Looking sharp, man!” someone called.
The “fitting room” from which Potts stepped forth was actually an office of Save-a-Suit, a nonprofit foundation in Connecticut that was giving free suits, dress shirts and ties to more than 25 vets that morning.
It’s the brainchild of Scott Sokolowski, talent acquisition manager for The Barnum Group, a division of MetLife. “I want these people to walk into their job interviews with confidence and dressed for success because I know the importance of first impressions and that the first 30 seconds are critical,” he explained later.
Potts needed that confidence. Since he never had a father figure in his life, “I relied on the military to teach me how to be a man. It was tough,” he said.
After four years of active duty, he left with a full-blown case of post-traumatic stress disorder. For the next two decades, he struggled with alcohol and drug addiction, he said.
“I suppressed a lot of issues, and they caused a lot of trouble for me when they surfaced,” said Potts. “I’d like to become a drug and alcohol counselor now because I hope I could help others alleviate some of the pain I went through.”
Since Sokolowski founded the nonprofit in 2009, it has given suits, shirts and ties to more than 2,200 vets, said Jessica F. Ewud, executive director of Save-a-Suit. Some are purchased with cash donations, while others had been gently used before being donated.
“We hand-sort through all our donations to make sure everything is in mint condition before we give it to our vets,” she said.
Another vet receiving a suit that morning was Diana L. Brasselle, an Army vet who says she also developed PTSD after experiencing trauma on active duty. Nightmares and flashbacks have been all too common, she said.
“It became harder and harder to be around people and harder and harder to work,” said Brasselle, who has been a physical therapist in the Yale-New Haven Hospital. Now she wants to look professional when she begins orientation as a substitute teacher next week.
“My No. 1 goal is to remain living independently in the community,” she added.
Save-a-Suit hosts up to five give-aways a year for vets who ask for help. You can learn more about the program at http://saveasuit.org/. But that help isn’t limited to those who walked through its doors that crisp September morning.
“One man had been living in vet housing in Milford (Conn.) for three years with his daughter,” remembered Ewud. “He called in a panic one night to tell us he had a job interview the next morning, and he needed appropriate clothing to wear. We got his clothing sizes and drove a suit, a shirt and a tie to his home that night.
“He called later to thank us and to tell us that he gotten the job as an administrator, I think,” she added.
But that’s not all. For a $50 donation, Save-a-Suit will ship a suit, dress shirt and tie (which average about $400 in value) to vets in other states. You can learn more about that program at http://saveasuit.org/ship-a-suit/ .
“We’ve shipped suits to 36 states since the foundation was founded,” said Sokolowski, an Air Force vet from a military family. “Last week, we shipped a suit to a vet in Alaska, so that makes 37.”
Save-a-Suit was founded after Sokolowski asked a job interviewee why he wasn’t dressed appropriately, and the college graduate answered he couldn’t afford one. Vets quickly became the focus, however, and now the foundation gives more than 90 percent of its suits to veterans who need to get jobs.
“This day is a blessing for me, a super-duper blessing,” said Potts. “This suit they gave me will help me build the confidence to get back into the job market. This is just a blessing from God.”