NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) – When you first meet Jason Conkel, you would have no idea he spent years in and out of jail for a portion of his life.
“Eventually that turned into addiction because I lost hope, you know? I’m a felon and I was like, you know what, I’m not going nowhere, so I kind of gave up, and I dealt with sporadic homelessness as well,” said Conkel.
He says the pivotal moment in his life came in 2015 when he lived in Florida.
“I was on felony probation, and I OD’d in my car. One of the busiest intersections in Orlando, Florida, and I’m at a gas station. Well, there was a slant, and my car was in neutral, and it started rolling towards the intersection, but right before it went into the intersection, it stopped, and you know, I’m out. I OD’d. So, it’s not like I put on the brakes.”
Conkel believes a higher power stepped in.
“God said, ‘You might be done, but I’m not done with you yet.’ I went to jail, went to a rehab program. It was as faith-based program, and I didn’t even want to go to a faith-based program. I was like, ‘No, that’s not for me.’ But it changed my life, and as soon as I got out, I got married to my wife. I was transformed. My family was transformed, and now we want to transform the community.”
So, in 2019, Conkel created the non-profit, Get Suited.
“We are empowering the community to succeed by equipping them with skills, tools, and confidence to gain and retain employment.”
All services provided by the organization are free. Get Suited has three programs:
“Suit up is one-on-one consultations. That’s when we go into the field, we bring a team, we sit with them, and we build their resume. We build their confidence. We mentor. We try to get them back on the right path.”
Conkel admits it can be challenging.
“A lot of them are in survival mode because they’re just surviving from day-to-day. So, first we’ve got to break through that barrier. We’ve got to build their confidence. You didn’t just paint. You painted a boat, you know? Build them up. Get them happy. Get them excited for life again.”
After the Suit Up consultation, it’s time to get clients sized up for a new suit.
“These are good suits you know. So, you’re looking fresh. You’ve got confidence going into a job interview. We’ll also supply work clothes within reason. So, you get a job, and you need some boots or something, we’ll help you out as well.”
Get Suited takes donations of “very gently used” suits for men. The organization works with both men and women. While Conkel does the sizing for men, he admits, he isn’t sure how to do the proper sizing for women. So, the organization uses donations to go to a store with women to buy them a new suit.
As for the Fuel Up program, Conkel says volunteers stuff reusable bags with things people in the community may need.
“We put in water, some healthy snacks to give you energy to take the next step.”
They also put Bombas socks in the bags, as well and information from partner organization that could be beneficial to those in need.
“Some people don’t feel comfortable giving money (to panhandlers), and I understand that. So, we want to be able to give you some bags to hand out into the community, or we take our team, and we just pack a bunch of bags, and we go out into the middle of the hood and just hang out with our friends and just pass them out. We just love to do the Fuel Up program. It’s been very beneficial.”
Conkel is also very passionate about the Step Up program.
“I wrote a curriculum, and it’s an 8-week curriculum. It focuses on leadership, character, budgeting. We have business leaders come in and they do mock interviews. We have a resume workshop, a graduation. They go through this whole program, and if you miss two, you’re out, but those who want it, those who stick it through, it’s incredible. At the graduation, they all get their suits. They come across the stage crying with their portfolio, with a letter of recommendation from us, with their new resume, with a new life, a new journey, a new confidence, and what’s crazy is we see them coming back to serve, and I think that is probably the most amazing thing in the world.”
Conkel says it all comes down to faith and love.
“I love you so much that I’m willing to tell you the hard things. It’s not going to be easy. You’ve done some things in life that will set you back, but it’s not going to keep you there. You don’t have to stay there. We’ve got you.”
Get Suited accepts very gently used suits for men, but Conkel says the biggest need right now is monetary donations. He also says the organization could use volunteers. If you’re interested in donating, or volunteering, click here.