Flint, MI—Flint students and community members can borrow an array of high-end suits for special events, job interviews or any occasion. 

The suits are housed at Southwestern Classical Academy. Though the closet is still under construction, once finished, it will resemble a boutique where students can “shop” for the right suit.  

Christopher Ochodnicky, principal of Southwestern, and President of Flint Schools’ Board of Education Casey Lester spearheaded the program. 

“Last year we received a donation of boys and men’s suits, and some of them are kind of tuxedo quality, and we started a clothes closet to meet the needs of our students that didn’t have things to wear to prom,” Ochodnicky said. 

The closet of donated clothing available for Southwestern Classical Academy students. (KT Kanazawich | Flint Beat)

Meanwhile, Lester was creating a similar program, unaware of Ochodnicky’s efforts. Last November, he and his wife opened a small men’s grooming and accessory shop, The Roman, in downtown Flint. They ran workshops called “Building Better Men” aimed at teaching young men and boys on how to do things like tie a tie and dress for a job interview. 

“And then I started thinking, well, it’s not always the lack of knowledge, sometimes it’s the lack of resource. There’s so many people in our city that have extra, I [wondered] if anybody would like to start donating,” Lester said. 

He received over 60 donated suits and planned to lend them to those in need. Then the pandemic hit. 

“So, the suits were in my garage. And then I was like, ‘there’s no reason why this isn’t a program that would work for Flint Community Schools.’” 

Donated prom dresses and women’s clothing for Southwestern Classical Academy students. (KT Kanazawich | Flint Beat)

He called Superintendent Anita Steward about the idea and she connected him with Ochodnicky. 

Now, the program has 100 suits for students to choose from. To ensure = suits are clean, Jan’s Professional Dry Cleaners agreed to wash them for free and teach students how to maintain their clothing, Lester said. 

Ochodnicky said he is glad to have Lester’s help, because he has seen how clothes can make an impact.  

“I had two students, in particular, who came to me last year. They talked about how they were having some financial issues…and couldn’t afford their prom fees,” Ochodnicky said. “I was working with them to help them cover their expenses…so they wouldn’t have to worry about paying for their suits.” 

The boutique will also feature a small selection of  prom dresses and women’s clothing, which Ochodnicky said he hopes to expand. 

Carmen Nesbitt is a journalist with diverse experience in news reporting and feature writing. She wrote for Hour Detroit and SEEN Magazine before joining the Flint Beat news team as an education and public...