Fort Wayne Urban Leagues Accessories Fair reaching out to help women in local shelter programs

Kathryn Mbwelera, right, executive assistant at the Fort Wayne Urban League, and volunteer Laura Wall place bracelets in smaller plastic bags Thursday in preparation for the organization's invitation-only Accessories Fair on Friday afternoon for women in local homeless and recovery shelters. (By Kevin Kilbane of The News-Sentinel)

You can have a nice dress. But you feel and look so much better when you have the accessories to make the outfit really pop, Kathryn Mbwelera said.

That’s why she and volunteers at the Fort Wayne Urban League will host an invitation-only Accessories Fair for women at local homeless and recovery shelters from 2 to 5 p.m. Friday at the Urban League office, 2135 S. Hanna St.

“They get clothes all of the time, but they hardly ever get accessories,” said Mbwelera, an executive assistant at the Urban League who also has worked previously at women’s shelters.

The idea for the event came from her own life: She has one pair of large, decorated hoop earrings she loves and wears often because they go with everything, she said. When a friend remarked about how often she wears them, she thought about other jewelry she has that she doesn’t wear.

She brought other women at the Urban League together to ask if they also have accessories they don’t use. When they said yes, she decided to organize the Accessories Fair to pass on unused jewelry, purses, hats and shoes to women who can use them.

She also sent out an information flyer to invite donations from people she knows, wives of pastors at about 15 local African-American churches and local sororities. Three organizations that heard about the event contacted her to donate items.

“What I’ve seen is the power of the public, because the public really came through and donated gently used items,” Mbwelera said.

She received enough donated items to fill all of the closets in the Urban League’s large meeting room.

She also received donations of gift certificates or accessories from local stores and businesses, including Macy’s, Southwest Hair Salon and Spa, Fancy & Staple, Outer Grace Boutique, The Find, Something Old Something New, and reNEW Upscale Resale.

Mbwelera expects 40 to 50 women to attend the event from eight local shelter programs: Rose Home, Vincent Village, Redemption House, Charis House, Just Neighbors-Interfaith Hospitality Network, Genesis Outreach, YWCA and Ave Maria House.

The event also will feature food and a festive atmosphere so the women can relax and have fun, she said.

Along with helping them jazz up their wardrobes, Mbwelera said Urban League staff and volunteers will be there to encourage the women to achieve their goals. The women also can pick up information on Urban League programs that may be of help as they transition back into the community, such as with housing, employment and after-school child care.

“It’s our way of giving back,” and it’s part of the Urban League mission of empowering people to succeed, she said.

The Accessories Fair will be a big help to women at Redemption House, for example, because many of them are just coming out of jail or prison, said Angie Helms, a program coordinator.

“Many of them come here, and they’ve got nothing but the clothes on their backs,” Helms said. Many also grew up in families where they had nothing.

But as part of the Redemption House program, women clients must get jobs and need to dress for work, Helms said. There are programs in the community where they can get clothes, but they have limited options for accessories.

The Urban League Accessories Fair will be a boost for the women’s self-esteem, Helms said.

“When you look good, you feel good about yourself,” she added.