Morning Sun

Four words guide Detroiter’s mission: ‘How can I help?’

- By Scott Talley

There is no denying that Alison Vaughn reflects the environmen­t where she was raised.

Vaughn’s voice — crisp, commanding and profession­al — conjures up memories of local groundbrea­king TV news anchors in Detroit like Beverly Payne, Diana Lewis and Carmen Harlan. Because of her voice, it is not surprising that Vaughn is periodical­ly asked by friends and strangers if she is a broadcaste­r.

But even more than her voice, it is Vaughn’s look — stylish and tasteful by most anyone’s standards — that tells the world that the glory days of Detroit’s Avenue of Fashion lives on through a proud Black woman who grew up just a few steps away, the Detroit Free Press reports.

“I’ve gone from the Avenue of Fashion to Miss Fashion Global,” declared Vaughn, who uses the location of Marvin Gaye’s former ranch-style home at Outer Drive and Monica as a reference point when identifyin­g the neighborho­od where she grew up.

Vaughn speaks with a tone of authority about the Avenue of Fashion, which, before the creation of area malls, and even afterward, was recognized as a luxury shopping district stretching from 7 Mile to 8 Mile on Livernois. While the Avenue of Fashion has special historical significan­ce in Detroit, Vaughn’s mention of Miss Fashion Global describes a recent event in November when she was crowned the Michigan winner (40 and over category) for the pageant. And it is Vaughn’s ability to draw strength from her Detroit past while finding new ways to inspire others that fuels the Jackets For Jobs “ministry” she embarked on 21 years ago.

“I’m clothing the poor, and like feeding the hungry, it is a ministry,” said Vaughn of Jackets For Jobs, the nonprofit she created in 2000, which has assisted more than 30,000 job seekers by providing profession­al attire, career training, and other resources and services at no cost to people of low income. “During the holiday season, and anytime during the year, I believe our mission to help people find and retain employment is a mission everyone can understand because everyone understand­s the importance of a job.”

A profile provided by Vaughn reveals that Jackets For Jobs’ clients are primarily in their 20s and 30s, with many entering the job market for the first time; 95% are single mothers, including many from area shelters; and almost all of Jackets For Jobs’ clients report household incomes of less than $10,000. Vaughn makes it crystal clear that she is driven to inspire the people she represents while elevating awareness of her cause. And in doing so, she is not afraid to step outside of the box, such as her participat­ion in the Miss Fashion Global pageant and her appearance on the “You Bet Your Life” game show with Jay Leno, which aired in November. But Vaughn identifies one person — her sister Cheryl — as her own inspiratio­n for everything she does on behalf of Jackets For Jobs.

While on leave from her job as a flight attendant for United Airlines following the tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001, Vaughn received a call from her aunt Willie Mae saying Cheryl wanted to reunite with her after nearly 20 years of no communicat­ion between the two sisters. The reunion would be short-lived as Vaughn found out that Cheryl was dying of cancer. And a few months later, Vaughn would be rocked again while handling the arrangemen­ts for Cheryl’s funeral.

“I found out that my sister was on welfare, and right then I wanted to do something to help other women on welfare,” proclaimed Vaughn, who, following her graduation from Michigan State University, had worked 16 years as a flight attendant before making the “not a good decision, but a God decision” to create Jackets For Jobs. “Cheryl has been my guardian angel and every time I see a woman at Jackets For Jobs, I see my sister Cheryl and I ask myself: How can I help this woman become self-sufficient? How can I help this woman better herself? How can I help this woman take care of herself and not need government assistance?”

But before Vaughn could begin helping, she needed to figure out how to create an organizati­on without any previous business or organizati­onal experience. To pull it off, Vaughn said, she turned to a Higher Power.

“It was a total, total, total leap of faith, but God won’t lead you where He can’t keep you,” testified Vaughn, a longtime member of Fellowship Chapel church, which is literally within shouting distance of Jacket For Jobs’ westside location. “My supervisor at United was like: ‘Are you sure you want to quit?’ He said the airline industry was like quicksand, and that once you get in it’s hard to get out. But God told me: ‘I have bigger plans for you,’ so I looked my supervisor right in the face and I said, ‘I’m sure.’. .. The friendly skies are friendly, but I’m friendly down on the ground. And instead of providing jackets in the air, we provide the life jackets needed for employment to our people right here in the Detroit area.”

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