When considering how I wanted to "give back," I knew that I did not just want to throw money at a cause. I wanted to get involved in my own community.
Two years ago, I learned about a local nonprofit organization called Success in Style, founded by mother of nine Jeannette Kendall, which helps women trying to get back into the workforce by providing professional attire for job interviews and their first few days on the job.
Initially, I could only volunteer on Saturdays and sort through donations of clothing from business women in the area. My guidance was to keep only the best for our clients so that when they walk out they feel special, fashionable and beautiful. I could tell that the women who donated felt good knowing their contributions of clothing, shoes and accessories were going to local women.
When my schedule allowed me to assist clients, I was able to participate personally in the process of changing the lives of women looking for a new start, as well as the lives of children many of them support. The women who come to Success in Style are referred by local social agencies. Their reasons these women need help vary. Some are coming out of abusive relationships, some are new to the area and needing work to support their families, and others are looking for their first jobs. These women are of all ages, sizes and personalities. The agencies have helped them with job-skills training, résumé preparation, interview skills and job leads. When they come to Success in Style, the focus is on getting them professional attire so that their appearance allows them to capitalize on these new skills and give them the confidence to be successful.
The women coming into Success in Style for clothing are always impressed with our "store." It is set up like a small, upscale boutique with suits, shoes, purses, scarves and jewelry, all smartly arranged and organized so that the women can look for outfits that appeal to their personal sense of style. The volunteers assisting them can also search for additional options in the small but well-organized storage room. Volunteers sit down with each woman to discuss their needs and provide a fashion consultation. They then assist in the selection of outfits, offering advice on which outfits look best and options for mix-and-match outfits, accessories and also how to shop for additional items as they get those first paychecks.
I'll never forget the first woman I personally assisted. With the help of the agency, she had gotten a job, but needed clothing to begin work the next day. She came in with a friend who also needed assistance and two teenage daughters. One of the daughters was pregnant. They were all living in a nearby homeless shelter, and I could not help but hope that our role in aiding these women in their job search could also be a step in boosting the confidence of these teenage girls.
The woman I was helping had never worn a business suit. She was very excited to go into the dressing room to try on the suit we had selected. I could see a definite transformation in her bearing when she came out of the dressing room. She was absolutely beaming and even standing a bit straighter. Her excitement increased as we found additional pants, shirts, jackets and shoes that she would be able to wear to work. The girls were also visibly impressed by the transformation. With the selections done and packed up into lovely SIS shopping bags and plastic wrap covering the hanging clothes, we had hugs all round. Both of the women walked out with new clothes and a level of confidence they had not had when they entered. They also had a coupon donated from a local beauty salon to get their hair styled.
The women who volunteer their time to sort donations and assist clients, the people who donate clothing, money and services and the social agencies who refer women to Success in Style are all focused on giving women the best possible start on the road to self-sufficiency. The good news is that 85 percent of the women we assist do get jobs. I am honored to able to contribute to this very worthwhile organization.