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A Measure of Dignity

Every day we strive to carry out our mission – providing dignity through free clothing to people in need in the Milwaukee community. But how do we know whether we are accomplishing our mission? Is dignity something that can be measured? Earlier this year, FGHC volunteer Tess Perumanoor (left) surveyed our clients for her school project, “Evaluation of the Dignity of the Clients and Quality of the Clothing at Father Gene’s Help Center.” At the time, Tess was a Marquette University student majoring in biomedical sciences with a minor in public health and equity.

Tess states in her paper that, “The project's objectives were to quantify the effect of dignity, autonomy, and equality that Father Gene’s has on its clients while also addressing the quality of the items and those representing the organization.”

She goes on to talk about the importance of dignity, noting “those who are already vulnerable to a loss of autonomy and dignity by being financially unstable and relying on community services are at greater risk of mental health issues, such as anxiety, depression, and increased stress. This furthers any ongoing physical ailments and predisposes community members to other physical illnesses.”

Methodology Tess interviewed a sampling of FGHC clients that reflected the demographic of our client population. Several of the questions were adapted from The Dignity Project by Tom Wein and Priyanka Khatry (

Survey participants were asked to answer the questions using the Likert scale (Strongly Agree, Agree, Neutral, Disagree, Strongly Disagree). Sample questions from the survey included the following:

“Father Gene’s treated me with dignity by respecting my autonomy, individuality, and equality,”

“I felt valued by Fr. Gene’s.”

A majority of the clients responded with “strongly agree” to the questions that used the Likert scale. The survey also included a narrative section to gather clients' opinions about Father Gene's organization and structure, the shopping area, the overall experience, and the clients' dignity, autonomy, and equality. Several clients said that, “Fr. Gene’s is doing a good job,” and that “They should continue doing the same thing.”

Results Tess concluded from her findings that, “Father Gene’s Help Center manifests and facilitates dignity, autonomy, and equality in its clothing services,” adding, “Father Gene’s creates a welcoming and trusted space for clients while exemplifying hospitality and allowing them to be autonomous in their shopping experience.”

The survey had certain limitations, such as that it was not available in Spanish, for our Spanish-speaking clients. For future surveys, we plan to have a station on-site for clients with the survey available in both English and Spanish.

Many thanks to Tess for gathering this important data as we strive to continue to provide dignity to our clients and serve our clients more effectively. Tess graduated from Marquette last May and is applying for medical school. She continues to volunteer at FGHC.

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