Dress for Success: Kansas City affiliate helps empower unemployed women
Jacqueline Scott was weary. She’d been searching for a job, as she says, “for soooooooooooo long.” And she was tired of being rejected.
Then her sister told her about the Kansas City chapter of Dress for Success, a nonprofit organization that offers career development tools to disadvantaged women and allows each participant to shop in its trendy boutique, with the help of a personal shopper, for an interview outfit.
“It’s been a great education for me,” says Scott, an eloquent speaker who’s searching for a position in customer service or as a receptionist. “I really understand now how to do an interview, and I have a lot more confidence in selling myself. They also help you find a job that best suits you.”
Dress for Success Kansas City opened its doors in 2011 at 3120 Troost Ave., Kansas City, Mo., inside the Connections to Success Office, the nonprofit umbrella agency for Dress for Success, which seeks to inspire individuals to pursue their dreams and achieve economic success.
Since that time, it has suited and helped train more than 150 women, says Kathy Lambert, co-founder and co-executive director with her husband, Brad, of Dress for Success Midwest. “We’re seeing women who fall between the cracks. We help them visualize and dream that it is possible to succeed. When they have a plan, they feel more in control of their lives. They have hope. It’s all about life transformation and restoration.”
More than 60 local nonprofit agencies, from domestic violence shelters to incarcerated women’s programs to job training initiatives, refer clients, says Lambert, who previously co-owned a corporate training and consulting business. The program is free to clients.
Women enrolled in the program participate in the organization’s five-day workshop, Going Places Network, sponsored by Walmart. They learn interviewing skills, how to write a resume and how to present themselves in a confident manner. Robert Half International offers workshops on speaking, Community America Credit Union teaches financial planning, an HR person from Walmart conducts mock interviews, an employment specialist offers job leads, and each woman is fitted for interview clothing, including shoes and bags. Upon graduation, each woman also is assigned a mentor to check in with and provide her with ongoing emotional support.
“When women first come in, many times their heads are down, their shoulders rolled forward; they’re not feeling good about themselves. Many have never worn a suit before or shoes with heels and hosiery,” Lambert says. “After they’ve been fitted, I’ve seen eyes light up and women touch the mirror to see if it’s really them. And when they leave, their heads are up, their shoulders back, and they’re smiling. They feel they really can control their world.”
Dress for Success KC is launching a professional networking group for its graduates who find work. Clients also can seek assistance from two other programs Connections to Success offers: Wheels for Success, a transportation program; and Pathways for Success, a holistic, faith-based program that seeks to help clients break the cycle of poverty.
“Everything we do is focused on dignity,” Lambert says. “And it’s a lifelong engagement on our part. We never close the file.”
This is great news for Scott, who says she’s now optimistic about her future. “It’s just been an awesome experience for me.” Then she laughs. “I already have a job interview!”
Ways you can help:
Donate new or gently used professional clothing, no older than three years.
Volunteer as personal shoppers, mentors or ambassadors.
Participate in the spring 5K Power Walk/Run in Swope Park.
Join the Black Dress Ladies and Red Tie Gentlemen’s Society. Members pledge $25 a month for one year to help women in the program.
To learn more about Dress for Success, visit dressforsuccess.org