02/17/2016

Business professors become 'angel investors'

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As professors and AFT Guild members, Leroy Brady and his colleagues at San Diego City College could see that many of their students were living hand-to-mouth. Even with grants, scholarships and loans, they still had to pay for rent and living expenses in their pricey Southern California town.

Sometimes, Brady noticed, students hadn't eaten for a couple of days. "They make choices about what they're going to spend their money on," he says, "and sometimes food comes at the bottom end."

Leroy BradyIn a collaborative effort, Brady and fellow faculty members in the business department decided to take the kind of entrepreneurial initiative they teach. Together they launched two enterprises: a "dress-for-success" clothes closet so that students could outfit themselves for job interviews, and an emergency food pantry to tide them over between meals. Both the clothing store and the pantry are funded by donations from college employees and the community.

Union leaders from the AFT's PSRP division visited the clothing shop and food pantry during a program and policy council meeting last month in San Diego. For easy access, both are housed within one building at the college; students need only show ID to pick up some water, yogurt, a fruit cup or soup between classes.

Prices at the clothes closet start at $1, and nothing runs over $10, even for a lady's silk suit or a man's smart blazer, nicely displayed on racks with inspirational signs placed strategically throughout the shop. Proceeds go back into the program. The shop, called Fantastique, is run in collaboration with the temp services firm Manpower and is incorporated into Brady's business courses. Student interns run the shop, learning to arrive on time, use a cash register, stick to scheduled breaks, open and close, track inventory and serve customers—all while earning college credit.

In class, students learn how to land job interviews and conduct themselves on the interview. If they qualify on the basis of need, each student receives one full professional outfit to wear to interviews. Students from the cosmetology school volunteer to do their hair and makeup.

"Everybody needs a job. This helps students get employment," says Brady (pictured above left with one of his students). "They are not Mitt Romney rich."

Both the clothing shop and the pantry serve the entire college. At this point, the pantry serves roughly 60 students a day, Monday through Thursday. "It's not supposed to be a meal, it's just supposed to get you from here to there," Brady says. "Because, as you know, if you haven't eaten anything you can't learn anything."

Shoes for sale in the clothing closetFunding for the shop and the pantry comes from the foundation via donations from individuals and organizations. Some college employees make payroll deductions while others make one-time contributions. Brady kicks in a pretty penny himself. Even a local church has gotten into the act, sending a contribution from parishioners.

"I really appreciate the staff, the classified and certificated, who have given," Brady says. "But you know, the need is great."

After touring the clothes shop and pantry (and opening their wallets), the PSRP leaders visited a campus-sponsored preschool across the street. The City College Child Development Center serves infants through pre-K children of students, employees and community members by income level. The preschool—spacious, attractive and flooded with light—is separated into age-appropriate wings. Its employees, also AFT members, collaborate with Head Start and Brady's food pantry, which occasionally sends over donations of diapers, baby food and wipes.

The preschoolers treated the PSRPs to a spirited recital of the book "We're Going on a Bear Hunt," with at least one of the PSRPs reciting the story along with them. We only wish we'd gotten video.

[Annette Licitra]