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Dress 2 Impress makes a difference in first year

Farmington Press - 8/21/2017

It's been one year since the Dress 2 Impress upscale resale shop opened in downtown Farmington.

But, the impact the store ? and the internship program instituted by Visions of Hope co-founders Luann Honerkamp and Jessica Harmon ? will make a difference in the lives of those diagnosed on the autism spectrum for years to come.

Harmon said the program was able to surpass the goal set of five to 10 interns for the first year in operation.

"We have served 25 interns ? those are teens and adults on the autism spectrum," Harmon said. "Some of them have gone on to paying jobs and been offered other jobs, some are volunteering and some just complete the program."

Those who are in high school are limited to 120 hours of internship per school year and are able to come back the following school year for more time in the program.

The vocational training program helps train the interns with what is expected in the job force. A portfolio of their work is also created for future use.

In addition, the store provides assistance to those who find themselves heading for a job interview or in a new place of employment ? yet unable to get the needed professional clothing for that job.

"We probably served 40 clients through the interview attire voucher program and we continue to do so," Harmon said. Funds for that portion of Visions of Hope's mission came from grant money awarded by the United Way of St. Francois County.

She shared the story of one individual who came into the store through the voucher program, needing apparel for a new office job.

"She was able to get a whole bunch of things that mixed and matched so she could have a bunch of different outfits," Harmon said.

Referrals to the voucher program are made through the L.I.F.E. Center, East Missouri Action Agency, Preferred Employment, Probation and Parole or through word-of-mouth.

"As long as we have a referral (of what their job will be)," Harmon said.

One detail the store worked to overcome was in making the public aware the store is open to everyone and was more than just a training program ? or a service to those in need.

A large sign on the window designates the store is open to the public. More than 3,000 customers shopped the store in the first year, which features new and gently loved dress clothing (men's and women's), shoes, jewelry, purses and accessories at affordable prices.

"I want anybody to be able to walk in here and be able to afford nice clothing," Harmon said. "So, yeah, I might have a Vera Wang shirt, but I'm not going to mark it up $20. It's going to be the same as any other shirt."

Dress 2 Impress takes donations of business and formal attire. Harmon stressed it's important for those making donations to know where the money goes from sales made at the store.

"Not only does it go to our interview attire program, but every dollar that is made here goes right back into the program," she said.

She said the store goes beyond filling a physical need ? but sees more than one instance where a spiritual need is met as well.

"It's just really neat all the people God sends to us," she said. "Every day, there is just some need that he is wanting to fulfill and we are able to help be a blessing to others?.those who are donating truly are helping.

"Somebody who just got a new job but is able to walk in (to work) confidently?I know how that feels. That's why I was excited about the attire program. As a single mom, I interviewed at Centene Corporation the first time and I didn't have anything appropriate?I wore what I had. Being able to help anybody that is in that situation, being able to hear their story?it's neat the relationships we make with all the different customers."

That's one of the points Harmon said makes the store so different. With the downtown location, the interns are able to build social skills by interacting with other businesses around them ? such as the banks and post office, which are just steps outside the front doors.

The store is located at 117 E. Columbia St. in downtown Farmington.

"We wanted to get downtown so (the interns) could make relationships with the bank, the post office, the downtown businesses," she said. "(The interns) can be a part of the community."

And, Harmon said, there are relationships built with those who shop at the store.

"With all the different customers?it feels like when neighborhoods and communities really cared," she said. "The relationships that we get to form with not only the people that come in all the time, but people from out of town or those who step in like this is a discovery, a treasure?I share our story with everybody that we can and I like to hear their stories."

Harmon said those with a child or grandchild diagnosed on the autism spectrum often ask questions of herself and Honerkamp about what the program is all about ? and about life with a loved one on the spectrum.

The inspiration for the store ? some may say ? is due in part to Harmon's sons ? Garrett and Morgan - who are both on the autism spectrum.

"Sometimes, just listening helps," she said. "We can also feed off each other. (Those diagnosed with autism) are all different, but they also have a lot of similar challenges."

The store has also partnered with Arcadia Valley Roasting Company, who created the "Morning Hope" blend for the program. Proceeds from the sale of bags of the blend go to the vocational training program.

Harmon also expressed the help from the community during fundraisers makes a tremendous impact on their work. One such upcoming event is the Paul Meinsen, Edward Jones Moonlight Golf Classic which is raising money for the Visions of Hope Training Program at 6 p.m. on Sept. 8 at Pallo's Par 3 course. The cost is $50 per player $100 for a two person team.

There will be dinner and prizes awarded. The Hole in One prize is presented by Auto Plaza Group. For more information, contact Paul Meinsen at 756-6711 or Honerkamp at 664-1711.

There is also an opportunity for business to sponsor an intern scholarship.

"Now that we have (been open for) a year, people know what we are doing and that it is really good work," Harmon said.


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