Arizel Corniel and Carly Rogalla have created a new initiative at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland that is helping students look the part of success, even when they don’t have many resources on hand to do so.
That makes these two juniors at MSD co-founders and best friends. The Coral Springs teens are natural soulmates for the enterprise, since they have been connected at the hip for years.
“We’ve been friends since the sixth grade,” Corniel said. “We formed our friendship because we were so alike. We instantly became best friends. We even have had a lot of similar classes in school. We have done everything together. We played soccer together in middle school and in high school. We’ve always been two peas in a pod.”
What brought them together at MSD was their common interest in DECA, a school-based program that looks for emerging leaders and entrepreneurs for careers in marketing, finance, hospitality and management in high schools and colleges around the globe.
“The DECA program at MSD started almost 20 years ago,” Corniel said. “Since the start, every quarter we have had a Professional Dress Day where all DECA students wear business outfits. We learn what’s appropriate, how to tie a tie and all that stuff.”
Because of their intense involvement in DECA, Corniel and Rogalla were given the opportunity to lead a chapter project.
“We were looking for ideas, and we wanted to do something to give back,” Rogalla said. “The type of initiative we’re running is a community giving project. When we were brainstorming some ideas, one thing that really came to us at one of our officer meetings for DECA.”
The friends and collaborators found out they would no longer be having Professional Business Dress Days at their school. Those are days in which DECA students would have to dress up in professional business attire to school and then would be graded for it.
“The professional dress days are where students learn that they need to tuck in their shirts and make their skirts longer so they go past their knees, and things like that,” Rogalla said. “The guidelines are meant to help students learn how to make a big impression when they’re doing job interviews for business. The reason the advisors told us that they wouldn’t be having the business dress occasions anymore was because they told us that a lot of the students couldn’t afford to buy the clothing, since it was basically only going to be worn one time for these special days.”
Thet learned that even in an affluent community like theirs, there were students who just didn’t have enough resources to afford perks like special clothes for occasions like these.
“We were really shocked by the idea that we wouldn’t be having these special days anymore,” Corniel said. “We did some research and found out that in Parkland, the average household income is around $200,000. But in Broward County as a whole, it’s only $61,000. So we realized how much harder it must be in lower income areas if some of the kids in our immediate area were having a tough time. So that’s what inspired the idea for Career Closet.”
They said they wanted to help other students because they realize how important presentation is in getting a job and advancing a career.
“We know it’s super important to have the right clothes, because we learned in our classes how important first impressions are with interviews, based on how you present yourself,” Corniel said. “So without that, young people are at a disadvantage. That’s why my friend and I started our initiative.”
She said they learned that, statistically, the first 10 seconds of a meeting for a job can often determine whether they reject or accept an applicant.
“We learned everything, like even how wearing the color blue increases your chances for acceptance,” Corniel said. “We know how important having professional dress is for everyone. We also learned that if you don’t come to an interview with a tie, it can decrease your chances of getting a job. And we think everyone should have an equal opportunity.”
Corniel and Rogalla started Career Closet in October. Their main goal is to regularly collect business attire for students, including blazers, skirts, blouses, jewelry, cologne and anything else that is relevant for interviews. The friends are working with businesses, the community and other schools to make this happen. Once they collect the clothing, they hold small events where they get volunteers to help, then they donate the clothes to other organizations.
“We have a lot of different ways of collecting clothes,” Corniel said. “One way is by contacting local businesses to work with us. We call up local businesses and ask them if they are willing to have a bin at their address so that people can come and donate. Another way is if people want to donate directly to us, then they can drop it off at MSD. We’ve also posted signs all over our community.”
Rogalla said that they are trying to focus on finding locations where it’s easy to drop off clothing.
“We’ve done collections at the Parkland Library. We’ve also done collections at popular local businesses in Coral Springs,” she said, “We’ve done collections at MSD as well. We also know people on a personal level who have donated clothing items.”
As students interested in business, Corniel and Rogalla said they know how important it is to market their message to get others on board with their mission.
“We advertise to groups to ask them for business professional and business casual clothes,” Rogalla said. “We designate days at our school where we sort through all the professional pants, all the professional shirts and so on. We also sort out anything that does not meet those requirements and put them in another pile. Then we bring a lot of those items to different organizations that aren’t specifically looking for professional clothing.”
Corniel said that, as far as getting the word out to local businesses, they mostly either walk to them in person and talk with them, or they call them and use social media to connect. Rogalla said they have been fortunate to be able to connect with the chamber to get the word out about their mission.
“As far as advertising for our clothing collection efforts, Arizel and I were given the opportunity to speak and network at the Coral Springs Chamber of Commerce,” Rogalla said. “We spoke in front of the Women’s Alliance there. We also had a networking event at our school with the Parkland Chamber of Commerce, where we spoke and told them and the community about Career Closet.”
To make things more efficient, the duo has also been able to send mass emails to the staff of MSD to ask them to donate. Now they are working on trying the same technique at other Broward schools to get their participation.
“We’re also contacting corporate centers on the weekends by phone and asking them if they want to get involved,” Rogalla said. “We go door-to-door to businesses, or we email or call them to see if they want to be a part of it.”
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Corniel said they have received positive feedback from students, teachers and business professionals.
“At networking events, we have had business women eagerly giving us their business cards,” she said. “We’ve never heard anything negative. Even if a business declines to be part of it, they always tell us that they think this is such a great project.”
Even though the initiative is only a few months old, they are making plans for Career Closet to survive past their own oversight of the effort.
“Next year, we definitely want to make this an established club at MSD, so the school can continue doing this work to give back even after we graduate,” Rogalla said.
Career Closet also works with nonprofits outside of their own school environment, including Women in Distress, Broward Outreach Center and Dress for Success.
To make a donation to Career Closet, bring professional-style clothing to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, 5901 Pine Island Road, Parkland.
Follow @MSDCareerCloset on Instagram.