Transforming Lives Through Work

Mahogany Charlton graduated from Saint Mary’s in 2001 with a major in communication, and is now the executive director of Wardrobe for Opportunity, an Oakland-based nonprofit organization that aims to “assist low-income individuals in their efforts to Find a Job, Keep a Job, and Build a Career.” “The ultimate goal is for people to be in a better place than they were when they came in,” Charlton said.

Wardrobe for Opportunity, says Charlton, aims to be “a central part of the community where people can come and have an opportunity to transform their lives.” The organization began as a boutique that simply provided interview clothes to low-income Bay Area residents, and has responded to client needs by expanding into career counseling and other services. The organization now offers eight different services, each with a different intended outcome. For example, when a client comes to the site looking for clothes, the goal is for them to get an interview, while if a client comes in for career development services, the staff wants to help the client retain their position and eventually get promoted. In a video interview with Saint Mary’s, Charlton reflects on her time at Saint Mary’s with fondness, remembering the friendly culture and the individual attention she was given due to the small class sizes. She specifically recalls how in her attempt to attend a student overnight program, the then-Dean of Admissions physically picked her up from the Martinez train station in order to make it possible for her to attend, and she later learned of her acceptance into the school from that very Dean during one of their many phone calls.

Expanding on the core concepts that make up the foundation of Wardrobe for Opportunity, Charlton explains, “Opportunity is something that’s very important to me. It means having access, access to tools and education and tips that are going to help people and myself make better decisions about their lives, whether that’s professionally, financially, or for their families.”

Charlton says her motivation comes from seeing her clients transform once they’ve been given these opportunities, saying, “Clients are able to come back in and get another wardrobe because they got a job, and I am always proud to hear about our clients getting promoted. I’m always proud to hear about our clients becoming self-employed, and entrepreneurs, and really making a social impact in the Bay Area.”

Charlton is also a graduate of the High Potential program, and cites the experience as “a key entry-level point to my success.” She gives extra attention to the Lasallian value of service, saying, “The key thing that I learned was service, and our organization is a service organization. We are providing low-income individuals an opportunity to move forward.”

Charlton has been with Wardrobe for Opportunity for nearly eight years, beginning as a program manager at a time when the organization was expanding based on client suggestions. She seized the opportunity to watch programs and clients transform, and spearheaded the expansion effort to Contra Costa County, helping to establish a satellite office in Concord that also offers a boutique and accounts for about 25 percent of the organization’s offered services.

In her final statement about Saint Mary’s, Charlton says, “I’m proud to have gone there. I think there was a lot of valuable experience that I gained, and I think that being there through the different experiences helped to prepare me for adult life after college.”