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Best dressed: Livingstone provides professional wear for students

By Rebecca Rider
For the Salisbury Post

As Assistant Director for Career and Professional Development at Livingstone College, Kendra Sharp says it’s her job to make sure every student that walks through her door is well prepared for life after college — whether that involves a career, continuing education or something else. But it’s more than just her job, it’s her passion.

That’s why when she noticed students attending dress code-specific events in casual clothing, she decided to do something about it — even if providing a wardrobe is not specifically in her job description.

“At Livingstone, we definitely have a culture to do more than what is expected,” she said.

In her three years working with the Career and Professional Development office, Sharp saw many students attending school events, from convocation to job fairs to class presentations, in casual clothing, when the event called for business dress. After a few interviews with students, she learned that many of them didn’t follow dress code out of choice — they just didn’t have or couldn’t afford the proper attire.

Seventy-five percent of Livingstone’s student body are first-generation college students, Sharp says. And, while they’re eager and ready for higher education, many aren’t fashionably prepared for presentations or interviews. It was a need that needed to be met, and Sharp stepped up to the plate.

Sharp’s office works closely with the Department of Alumni Affairs on campus, and former Livingstone graduates were the first people she turned to for help. They sent out a request to alumni asking for gently used business wear, and before she knew it, Sharp received enough donations to start a rental closet.

She calls it “Hangers for Success” and it’s been a hit among students and alumni, alike.

Director of Career and Professional Services Sophia Gaither says that the initiative has been one more way to connect alumni to the school. Livingstone’s alumni have always been very involved in the college, but many live in other states.

“They can’t come on campus all the time,” she said, “but they can send us clothing.”

And, Gaither says, it helps the alumni appreciate the institution and the current students appreciate the alumni.

Now, Livingstone students can swing by Sharp’s office and rent out an outfit, free of charge. Hangers for Success’ goal is to provide whatever a student may need for a professional event or interview — be it a tie, a white button down or a full suit.  All Sharp asks is that they return it on an agreed-upon date in the same condition they received it.

It’s still the beginning of the year, so the collection and the need is small, but she’s getting good feedback from the faculty, staff, and students.

“It’s definitely been a positive,” Sharp said.

Sharp hopes that other local schools will take up the mantle and start similar initiatives on their campuses, as well. But right now, she’s working on getting the word out — to the students and to anyone who might be interested in donating. She’s also hoping to start a fund that will cover the cost of dry cleaning for some of the items, and there are still some things the closet lacks — belts, women’s shoes and men’s jackets.

Sharp says they accept donations from anyone in the community. She requests that the clothes be clean, gently used, neatly packaged and reasonably fashionable.

“I want to still cater to the students in what they like,” she said.

Please call Karen Sharp at 704-216-6298 or send an e-mail to ksharp@livingstone.edu to arrange a time to drop off donations.

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