Guest post by: Jennifer Lange
As a 33-year marketing and public relations specialist, I’ve had the distinct honor of working with remarkable visionaries and business leaders throughout my career.
Nearly a decade ago, I was introduced to one such person – Jerri Rosen, Founder and CEO of Working Wardrobes – to help amplify the organization’s reach in Southern California, to serve more and do more for at-risk individuals in our community.
From the moment I met Jerri, I made it my mission to share Working Wardrobes’ mission with the world.
These past 10 years, I’ve written about the unmitigated commitment and support of Working Wardrobes’ volunteers, corporate partners, Board Members, community advocates, and staff members who help those in need achieve the Power of a Paycheck™ each day.
I’ve written about the incredible men, women, young adults, and Veterans who have overcome seemingly insurmountable odds to find meaningful employment, whose lives are forever transformed by the support they received from the generous Working Wardrobes family.
I’ve written about Jerri’s journey and the exceptional people who supported her along the way to the culmination of her 31-year mission. In December, she retired from Working Wardrobes to pursue her post-CEO passions.
I have enjoyed every moment of knowing Jerri and her incredible team. In truth, the moments I’ve spent with Working Wardrobes have been the most fulfilling and rewarding of my career.
When Jerri informed me that she was retiring, I thought “Who could possibly take the reins and continue to deliver on the Working Wardrobes’ mission like Jerri has?”
Then, I met Bonni Pomush, the new CEO of Working Wardrobes, and realized that our treasured volunteers, staff, Board Members, and corporate partners are in very capable hands!
Today, it is my pleasure to help you get to know Bonni a little better.
Bonni’s Background, First Paycheck, and Her Foundation in Education
Prior to our interview for this article, I met Bonni on various phone calls and video conferences, as well as in-person at the Working Wardrobes Fundraising Gala, Celebrating Under the Stars.
Every interaction left me smiling and warm. Her enthusiasm is contagious. She is vibrant, smart, and sweet.
We sat down for this interview and immediately dug into Bonni’s background and her goals for the future of Working Wardrobes. It was comfortable and fun, typical of time spent with Bonni.
Bonni hails from Arizona and has been employed ever since high school where she was an avid tennis player. In fact, she told me that she earned her first paycheck at a hair and tanning salon where she was first a tanning customer trying to eliminate the tan lines she earned on the tennis court. She shared that whether she actually was wearing socks or not, her feet looked like she was!
She told me she has always valued education and the health and well-being of people. In fact, education has played a significant role in her life and career.
Prior to attending college, Bonni was an ardent camp counselor who dedicated her summers to teaching children of all ages. After high school, she enrolled at Arizona State University located in her hometown where she pursued a Bachelor of Science Degree in Psychology. While attending ASU, she was employed as a Research and Teaching Assistant during the school year and as Residential Counselor and then the Director of the Center for Academic Precocity during the summers.
“Serving first as a counselor and then as the director of residential staff members was a huge leadership learning curve for me,” she said. “Then, as a teaching and research assistant in the provost’s office, I worked closely with the Human Relations Board to vet research proposals. I gained a love for education AND the research that inspires it.”
What motivated Bonni most in her undergraduate studies became the focus of her graduate work in Family Resources and Human Development. Much like engineers care about the inner workings of mechanical components, Systems Theorists care about the matrixes of industries, businesses, careers, and people. Systems Theory summarized is that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. In application, how is an overall system impacted when a component of that system changes?
“For me, Systems Theory is all about human relations,” Bonni said. “I am very interested in the research of people, how people operate, how people work together, what impacts and changes us as humans, and most importantly, how we all make sense of this world and contribute to changing it for the better.”
Timing Plus Tenacity Equals Everything
While completing her Master’s degree, Bonni accepted a regional management position in the Community Education Department of the Kyrene School District in Tempe, Chandler, and Phoenix, Arizona. After a few years, she was offered an Assistant Director position wherein she led a team of dedicated supervisors, managed a $10 million budget with 300 staff members, and worked closely with the Governing Board to research, approve, and implement policies affecting 26 facilities, 18,000 students and more than 2,000 employees. During her tenure at Kyrene, she was also accountable for various state and federal grants, as well as the district-wide communications team.
“My career at Kyrene was very much like managing many individual businesses simultaneously,” Bonni said. “We’re talking about countless different programs, from athletics and enrichment classes to entitlements and grants, from childcare programs to facility rentals and on-site security teams at 26 locations in three cities where thousands of employees work. I was tenacious. I was leading high-performing teams. I loved it.”
With her leadership and guidance, Bonni helped grow revenue, expand student enrollment, and increase staff retention.
Then, Bonni fell in love with an Orange County, California native. After navigating a long-distance relationship for a number of years, she finally decided to make Southern California her home.
“It was a scary leap of faith,” said Bonni. “Here I am, working since high school to build a career, and now I’m moving to a different state with the love of my life and no paycheck. It was time, though, and I was ready to see the next chapter unfold.”
Bonni had every intention of volunteering after her relocation, to give back to others, while familiarizing herself with the area and networking before re-launching her career. When she approached Temple Beth El of South Orange County: The Samueli Center for Progressive Judaism to volunteer her services, they offered her a full-time paid position that very day.
“Even though my plan was to volunteer and get acquainted with the area, I understood that this was a sign,” Bonni said. “It was meant to be.”
For over 11 years, Bonni dedicated her time and talents to serving TBESOC: The Samueli Center for Progressive Judaism, and as their Executive Director since 2015.
From managing a $2.7 million budget, to working with volunteers to raise $6 million in a capital campaign and $1 million in annual gifts, to overseeing customer service processes, contract negotiations, marketing, development efforts, and HR management, Bonni stewarded the organization to fiscal responsibility and improved systems.
Most importantly, she built lasting relationships with students, parents, staff, clergy, and Board Members who value her leadership skills, kindness, and attention to detail – to this day.
In my research for this article, I was truly inspired by the many glowing letters of recommendation for Bonni. Without question, people adore and value her contributions to the nonprofit world – and the world, in general.
This is just one of the many recommendations that moved me.
“Bonni is a force of nature with unbelievable talent and strengths she happily and generously shares. I consistently watched her excel at all aspects of her role, including facilitating well-executed meetings, leading board trainings, creating new systems, solving complex problems collaboratively, managing countless projects/initiatives, mapping out a year or an agenda for the board, developing a high performing team, and raising a lot of money for TBESOC. She is a passionate and dedicated professional who should be empowered to lead just as she empowers others. As her boss and co-pilot, I saw her champion more initiatives than I can recount, and all of them with love, dedication, and true skill. Any organization would truly be blessed to have Bonni’s leadership and talent at the helm.” – Firuzeh Claar
Bonni’s Interests and Vision for the Future
There is always a striving sense in Bonni to do more and expand her skills in new ways. This mindset drove her on a journey of growth and exploration, which led her to a job description for the new Working Wardrobes CEO candidate.
“I read and re-read the information and kept thinking this is me, me, me!” she said. According to Bonni, all the boxes were checked.
“Jerri and the Working Wardrobes team have made it their mission to serve people with dignity and respect, which is my fundamental philosophy in life,” Bonni said. “The Working Wardrobes family consists of robust professionals who are experts in their field and extremely passionate about their work. They have service in their hearts, they want to be of service to the world, and I knew instantly that I wanted to be a leader and facilitator of their mission.”
With that, Bonni applied for the job. After months of searching and interviewing with the help of a professional search firm, Jerri, the Working Wardrobes Board of Directors, and the Executive Team knew they had found the right person.
Bonni accepted the offer and on November 8, 2021, began the onboarding process with Jerri.
When I asked Bonni about her future goals for Working Wardrobes, she told me simply, “I want to build upon the strengths of the first 31 years and put these strengths to work to make the world better, one person at a time.”
When I asked Bonni about her hobbies and interests, she said “I love being outdoors paddle boarding, walking, or playing tennis. If I’m indoors, I love yoga, spending quality time with close family and friends, getting a massage, and going to the theater, especially Broadway shows.”
During this interview, I couldn’t help but think how Bonni reminds me so much of Jerri. She’s an exuberant, fiery, passionate, and compassionate force of nature – a staunch and energetic advocate for others.
When I witness Bonni and Jerri together? It’s comfortable and fun, like longtime childhood friends who haven’t seen each other in a while yet haven’t missed a beat. They have formed a partnership and friendship that I am confident will last their lifetimes.
They told me this is exactly the way they want it to be.
Bonni, welcome aboard. We are blessed, and grateful, to have you!
About Working Wardrobes
Working Wardrobes is Orange County’s foremost workforce readiness nonprofit, providing the tools to at-risk men, women, young adults, and Veterans so they can achieve the dignity of work. Founded in 1990 by Jerri Rosen, Working Wardrobes has been serving Southern California for over 30 years by providing assessments, job training, career placement, and wardrobe services to almost 115,000 clients to overcome barriers to employment and achieve the Power of a Paycheck™. For more information, please visit www.workingwardrobes.org.