William Chignoli resigns from Acción Social Comunitaria, and Thomasina Clarke aims to stop saggin' with Bagg'ns

William Chignoli resigns from Acción Social Comunitaria, and Thomasina Clarke aims to stop saggin' with Bagg'ns

Acción Social Founder Resigns
Just two months ago, the low-cost immigrant healthcare center La Clinica closed it doors owing to lack of funding. 

Now Acción Social Comunitaria, a local nonprofit that offers a broad array of social services for low-income minority groups, is "on hold" after William Chignoli, the organization's founder and executive director, resigned from his leadership position.

Chignoli, who was profiled in an RFT feature story in March, founded ASC in 1993 while studying to become an ordained Methodist minister at Eden Theological Seminary in Webster Groves. The organization began as a means of providing mental healthcare, clothing and food to impoverished Latino immigrants. Since then, services have expanded to include in-home meals for the elderly, vaccinations, after-school tutoring for Hispanic children and bilingual parent training.

In an e-mail to RFT, Chignoli writes that he left ASC because of its recent financial struggles, which culminated with a decision in June by the organization's board of directors to cancel a fundraiser he had planned that was to be hosted by National Public Radio and FOX News correspondent Juan Williams:

"After 16 years, I decided to submit my resignation. It is a bitter-sweet ending for me, but I feel proud of what I did accomplish throughout these years.

The last two years were very difficult, not only for our Organization, but for many other not-for-profit organizations as well. ASC had serious financial difficulties. There was a lack of donated funds and the loss of specific grants. The immigration situation with the Hispanic Community also created a fear reaction in those who usually supported ASC. The scheduled Williams presentation did not achieve the expected financial support, thus the Board decided to cancel it for this reason. It was at this point, after several months of uncertainty that I thought it would be better to create a new vision for ASC and so I presented my resignation to the Board [effective July 1.]"

This is not the first time the 70-year-old Chignoli has resigned from a leadership role after a spat with his organization's board.

Chignoli also founded La Clinica (which was housed in Scruggs Memorial United Methodist Church, just west of South Grand Boulevard, where Chignoli still occasionally leads Sunday services) as an offshoot of ASC in 1996. He resigned as director of the clinic in 2005 after several disputes with La Clinica's board.

Leadership quarrels aside, Chignoli has led an impressive and accomplished life. He holds a degree in medicine from the University of Rome and was a part of the World Health Organization's initial response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the 1980s. More recently, in 2006, he partnered ASC with the University of Oklahoma and several other state departments of education to help revamp the ESOL curriculum for public schools across the Midwest. Last November, Chignoli traveled to the Seattle home of Bill and Melinda Gates to attend a conference that shaped the Gates Foundation's strategy to improve college readiness of underprivileged children.

Now that he's retired, Chignoli says in an e-mail that he's focusing on getting his personal affairs in order. "Basically, I am waiting to know what God has in store for me," Chignoli writes. —Keegan Hamilton

"Sag" with Dignity
Three years ago Thomasina Clarke struck upon an idea to alter a clothing fad she finds reprehensible: saggy pants that expose people's underwear.

"It's like cussing around your momma," explains Clarke, a 56-year-old mother and schoolteacher. "You shouldn't want to do that. Showing your underwear is the same thing. You shouldn't want to do that around your momma. It's taboo."

Outfitted with a sewing machine and a roll of denim, Clarke retreated to her home in north St. Louis and crafted the first-ever pair of Bagg'ns — jeans featuring two waistbands. The top waistband fits snug around the hips to hold the pants up. The second hangs low around the buttocks to give the illusion of saggin'.

Clarke then came up with the first of several slogans for her creation: "Bagg'ns: If you must sag — sag respectfully, sag responsibly."

After finding a Los Angeles company to manufacture the pants, Clarke held a launch party in December 2008. Now she's working hard on a second-generation of Bagg'ns, which she promises to be more "off the chain" than the original.

The RFT caught up with Clarke to learn more about her product, her vision and her extreme distaste for the public flaunting of one's undergarments. 

RFT: At least one St. Louis municipality tickets people for wearing saggy pants. Were you ever cited for that offense?

Thomasina Clarke: Oh, no! I'm a woman. I don't sag. And my children, they don't sag either. But they appreciate the effort to sag respectfully and have worn Bagg'ns and received many comments. I've just always liked fashion and style, and I like saggy pants — just not when they show off underwear.

Don't Bagg'ns defeat the thrill of saggin' — showing your Fruit of the Looms to the world?

I don't think so. I hope that Bagg'ns can actually help raise the consciousness of people who sag for that purpose. It's about self-respect as much as it is respecting others. What are they saying now with the way they wear their pants? "F—- you?"

Jean styles come and go — bell-bottoms, tapered leg, acid wash, relaxed fit, low waist — but do you think the sag look is here to stay?

I don't know. I hope the way you see it today isn't here to stay. I hope Bagg'ns changes that. They still allow you to make a fashion statement, and you don't have to walk bow-legged to keep your pants from falling off.—Chad Garrison

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