PORTSMOUTH – For Lisa James, it’s not all about the clothes.
While her nonprofit closet is definitely burgeoning with them, it’s more about the confidence radiating from a woman’s face when she tries on a gently-worn leather jacket, blazer, or dress.
That burst of confidence certainly doesn’t solve all of the problems that women in recovery face, but it helps. It’s a positive emotion that could lift a vulnerable woman up and propel her forward.
James, a Dover resident, operates “The Rack” out of New Frontiers Church on Gosling Road. It’s a free clothing boutique for women in recovery and transitional situations, entirely supported by community donations.
Her slogan is “revive, reclaim, reimagine.”
James found herself inspired to do more following mentorship work through her church with women living in group homes. She’d also had a personal encounter with addiction five years ago, when a friend died of a heroin overdose. James had just seen her the day before, she said.
James had a mentee who was living at Lydia’s House of Hope in Somersworth, a 12-month transitional housing program for homeless women and children. In this case, she had recently lost custody of her children while in the grip of addiction.
“They were always so grateful and so thankful,” James said. “I thought they deserved more. I just have so much love and respect for them. They’re so brave.”
James said she felt “called” to start a nonprofit for these women, and it took off with a single post on The (un)Official City of Dover, NH Facebook page. Every week, James noted posts from women asking where they could donate their clothes.
She introduced her new venture – “for these women who are working very hard to stop the cycle and get back on their feet, as well as reimagining their future” – and asked women to remember The Rack the next time they were switching out their closet.
It did not take long for her post to gather nearly 200 comments.
“Women do care,” James said. “Women care for their sisters.”
The donations have since come from individual community members in Dover, Portsmouth, Greenland, Lee and other towns.
The Rack has assisted more than 20 women so far, James said, often times with professional attire for job interviews or a staple “feel good” outfit.
James recalled one woman she helped who “literally had nothing.” She picked out an outfit ahead of an interview, and she got the job. Another woman had recently left a relationship and became homeless as a result.
“It makes me tearful,” James said.
The Rack – a fully-stocked room – has blazers, knitted sweaters, high-heels, boots, purses, jeans and much more. A Kay Jewelers necklace is currently on display, for example. James noted they have all sizes, and frequently receive clothing that still has tags.
“My goal is to help women gain their confidence back, or just gain confidence in general,” James said.
She sees her nonprofit as being “powered by the community, for the community.”
Today, James smiled, she now considers her mentee a friend, and the woman has since graduated from her program at Lydia’s House of Hope and secured housing of her own. She’s starting to see the “fruits of her hard labor,” James said.
Next up for James is connecting with additional group homes and organizations that serve vulnerable women across the Seacoast. She’d like to see The Rack extend its reach to increase the number of women benefitting from its offerings.
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