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A wardrobe of their own

 
 
Raquel Paniagua shops for a lightly used work outfit in the no-charge Closet at Homestead's South Dade County Adult Skills Center in Homestead where she's studying cosmetology. While the courses help her move from agrigultural field hand to a trade, the Closet -- the brainchild of Homestead councilwoman Judy Waldman  -- gives her wardrobe and self-esteem a welcome lift.
Raquel Paniagua shops for a lightly used work outfit in the no-charge Closet at Homestead's South Dade County Adult Skills Center in Homestead where she's studying cosmetology. While the courses help her move from agrigultural field hand to a trade, the Closet -- the brainchild of Homestead councilwoman Judy Waldman -- gives her wardrobe and self-esteem a welcome lift.
Patricia Borns

The six woman sitting around a table at the South Dade County Adult Skills Center in Homestead smile as brightly as any class of cosmetology students as they talk about their facial and pedicure classes. But as the conversation shifts to the roads that brought them here from Mexico, their faces darken. Ranging in age from 16 to 60, these students have been picking green beans for as long as 24 years to get to the point where they can hope to enter better paying jobs and, maybe, start businesses of their own. .

“I gave up. I stopped going to school,” says a 16-year-old whose family found themselves homeless. From being angry at the world, “I saw my younger sisters following behind me, ready to leave school like me. I didn’t want them to follow that example. Now I’m going to finish school in July and get a job.”

Under the leadership of Maria Garza, the Skills Center will not only help her graduate and learn a trade, but also dress the part with professional outfits and that special Quince gown or prom dress. Started by Garza with Homestead council woman Judy Waldman, Judy’s Closet is continually refreshed with outfits donated by Waldman’s friends from as far as Tallahassee and Tampa -- clothes worn only once or twice, or sometimes not at all, that the students can browse and take for free.

As Garza leads them to the Closet, the womens’ faces brighten again. Roxana Cardozo, who moments ago was teary-eyed over being left by her husband in a still-foreign country, holds a pastel-colored blouse to her chest. For a moment, shopping tranforms her. Her cares fall away.

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