Irvine career development non-profit scrambles to figure out next steps after fire destroys building

IRVINE, Calif. (KABC) -- Smoke and flames ripped through the roof of career development nonprofit in Irvine over the weekend, leaving volunteers, clients and its longtime CEO stunned.

"I don't know that there's any way to put into words what a reaction is when you see 30 years of your life and your labor and your love up in flames. I think it's actually surreal," said CEO Jerri Rosen.

The fire destroyed everything in its path Sunday, causing about $12 million in damage to the commercial building that housed the non-profit, Working Wardrobes - a total loss. That includes the organization's donation center, career center and corporate offices which are used to help people rejoin the workforce.

The blaze not only devastated the non-profit, but also posed a challenge to firefighters.

"Very, very dangerous fire to fight. But because of the volume of fire and the smoke and the heat, they were pushed back. It's something firefighters do not like to do," said Captain Tony Bommarito with the Orange County Fire Authority.

Goodwill has stepped up to provide a temporary home for Working Wardrobes at its Fitness Center in Santa Ana. It will allow the organization to try its best to continue providing career services and professional wardrobes to at-risk men, women, young adults, and veterans.

"It helped me know that veterans have a place in Orange County and that there's organizations out there who make veterans feel like they're welcome," said Derek Mendes, a former client and current employee.

"When I came to Working Wardrobes, it kind of connected me to that whole network. There was a lot of things that I didn't realize were available before," said Griffin Dooley, also a former client and current employee.

With so many lives depending on the work that they do, Working Wardrobes is now relying on the community more than ever.

"When you're in the trenches working everyday to deliver on a mission that's working with people living on the margins get back on their feet get back to work, we never thought we'd need to get back on our feet," Rosen said.

Working Wardrobes says what they need most right now are financial donations. They'll need that to rebuild and to continue providing services. They will start accepting donations at the Goodwill Fitness Center Tuesday and resume helping clients with services starting Thursday.

For more information on how to help, visit www.workingwardrobes.org/rebuild.
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