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MenzFit makes that first impression a lasting one for prospective job candidates

The Eagles continue to support nonprofits that work to reduce barriers to opportunity and end racism. In support of Black History Month, the Eagles are proud to recognize the work of one of these nonprofits each day.

When Rhonda Willingham was working for the Clinton administration as a special assistant in the Department of Labor, she noticed that there was a need for an organization to help men obtain professional clothing for job interviews. That vision 20 years ago formed MenzFit, whose mission is to ensure gainful employment, job interview preparation, professional apparel, and mentorship as they seek and achieve jobs to support themselves and their families. Nearly 7,000 men have benefited from its services, earning close to $60 million in income.

While MenzFit was born in Washington D.C., the West Philadelphia native eyed her hometown as its second location. The Center City office isn't set up like a thrift shop. A certified professional image consultant, Willingham arranges the suits, dress shirts, ties, and shoes in a showroom that resembles an upscale fashion boutique.

"They stand a little taller. They feel a little bit better. They get excited," says Willingham, when the clients first see the free clothing options at their disposal.

"Rhonda makes you feel like nothing ever happened," says Derrick Cain, a MenzFit alumnus who was imprisoned for selling drugs and now owns a financial company. "She really does care. It's not an act. It's not something that she's trying to do for any other reason than to help."

MenzFit allows that first impression on job interviews to be a lasting one. What started with clothes has expanded to mentorship, job interview prep, personal development, and education. Alumni formed a Professional Menz Group that serves as a network and exposes the members to cultural activities ranging from guided museum tours and art performances to learning social etiquette and ballroom dancing.

Willingham has been able to visit with clients during the pandemic, but not as many as she would want to because of COVID protocols. One new initiative that started just prior to the pandemic was put on hold. MenzFit implemented the Work in Progress program at the State Correctional Facility – Phoenix just outside the city to provide skills and education to help inmates transition from prison back to the workforce. MenzFit provided 30-day grooming kits and a week's worth of professional work attire to its graduates last February.

"There is nothing more critical to a person's self-esteem and sense of worth than work. I believe effective reintegration into the workforce can create a systematic change by helping to break the cycle of poverty and distress that passes from generation to generation among Philadelphia's underserved populations. Helping returning citizens navigate through the work and life process is a core principle of MenzFit," Willingham says.

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