Giving Power Away

 

by Nancy Schneider  Co Founder

 

“Remember ladies: the more skin you show, the more power you give away.”

The wardrobe consultant stands in the conference room with a collapsible metal clothing rack behind her. She is conducting a meeting of the Dress for Success Boston Professional Women’s Group and she has the audience in the palm of her hand.

Most folks know that we give out suits to women who are headed for an interview, accessorize her outfit, and give her all the pieces she needs to make a great first impression. What you may not know is that when the client gets the job, she is invited back to the boutique to get additional clothing–a week’s worth– depending on what we have in stock. It will be at least that long before her paychecks start to arrive,  and with the extra pieces we give her, she can look professional and polished by learning a few mix and match tricks.

club dressing 1.jpgThe professional wardrobe consultant who is conducting this meeting of newly employed clients is a savvy professional. She is looking at a group of very young women who are dressed in jeans, crop tops and mini- skirts that are very revealing.  “What you are wearing tonight is great on your own time, but dressing for an office is a very different matter.  You don’t want to send the wrong message.”

But I don’t want to look like an old lady!” says a young woman wearing a skin tight yellow mini skirt with a cleavage-bearing top.

“But you also want to be remembered for your capabilities, not your outfit,” returns the consultant.

This conversation often happens in our boutique when we are dressing clients. Some of the women we see have never been in offices before, nor have they had role models to guide them about presentation and behavior. Piercings, tattoos, and brightly colored hair are tools to help a person stand out from the crowd, but often they categorize a worker and eliminate her from serious consideration for advancement.

“But that isn’t fair!” claims the client in the mini skirt.  “My worth shouldn’t be judged on what I’m wearing.”

professioan woman dressing.jpg“You are correct, says the consultant, “it shouldn’t, but it often is.  People judge us initially by how we look. It may not be fair, but it is real.  If you are not aware of this dynamic, you will be at a distinct disadvantage.”

The consultant tries to make the group focus on how to work in the system and how to be successful in a business. “You can add your personal flare to your outfits. You are an individual and no one wants to change that, but why sabotage your chances to be valued and promoted by something as silly as the length of your skirt?”

The room is silent. These young women are digesting this new information which is being presented in a non-judgemental way. And this is what we do at Dress for Success Boston. We give practical advice to folks and help them navigate a new environment.  We want our clients to succeed and we do not want them to give their power away!

Sometimes it takes a bit more than a suit…….

 

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It All Starts With A Suit

Nancy Schneider,  Co Founder, Success Boston

 

Judy is a successful accountant and a supporter of Dress for Success Boston. She recently lost some weight and donated her favorite charcoal grey pant suit to us. She put $100 check in the pocket and told us, “I have twenty suits in my closet. But that was not always the case. I want to help another woman get started. Use this to continue your great work.”

Greey suit 1.JPGAt Dress for Success Boston, we support women who have the dream to take back economic control of their lives for themselves and their children. Over 11,000 women with this dream have come to us in fifteen years.  And today we are dressing clients at the rate of 1000 per year. We support our clients with the clothes they need for the interview, and we offer regular educational seminars to help them navigate their new working world.

Lorraine is one of those women. Like all our clients, she was referred by a social service agency. She had lost her home, her health insurance, and she had really lost her way. “I never dreamed I would be in this position,” she said her eyes welling up. “I don’t want to be here accepting charity. I owned my own hair salon once. I was successful and financially independent.” Her story involved alcohol, bad choices and bad checks.  She had paid the price and came to us from an early release prison program. She had an interview scheduled with a hospital in the Medical Records Department and she was nervous and hopeful at the same time.

We dressed Lorraine in Judy’s charcoal grey suit which was freshly dry cleaned and elegant. With the financial donation Judy gave us, we were able to give Lorraine new black shoes, new grey pantyhose, pearl jewelry, and a white blouse that looked professional and tailored. A black tote bag and a bright turquoise scarf completed the outfit and when she stood before the mirror in our boutique, the tears returned, but this time they were grateful ones. “I can do this,” she said out loud.  “I really think I can do this!”  She turned to the volunteer who was helping her and said, “You don’t think it is too late for me to start again, do you?”

We at Dress for Success believe it is never too late when a woman is motivated to have a better life. Our clients are turning a corner. Starting again—overcoming great sadness and great obstacles. Our mission is to help them, with the presentation tools they need for the interview and the longer term support they need in our monthly educational seminars taught by successful business executives in our community.  Their motivation for success, hard work and ambition do the rest.

Although they might never meet, Judy and Lorraine are connected.  Judy has given Lorraine an enormous gift, not just the interview outfit but the confidence to embrace her dream for the future.  And it all starts with a suit…

 

 

 

 

 

 

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CROSSING THE FINISH LINE

by Nancy Schneider, Co Founder

 

Karen did not know when she was sixteen that the beers she had after the football parties in high school would lead to addiction.

Maryanne did not know at twenty-two that her husband of five years was passing bad checks for his gambling debts.

Noreen had no idea that she would get breast cancer at thirty.

Each woman started her life from a place of hope. But bad choices, bad luck and bad health changed their course.  None of them had a support system and all of them wanted to start again.

These are the women who come to Dress for Success Boston every day.  Women who want to start over and take control of their lives and the future of their children.

They come to us from training programs, drug rehabs, early release prison programs, domestic violence shelters.  The jobs they seek mean a pay check and health insurance and a 401K plan and an independent future.

It also means that with the job they become a role model for their daughters and sons.  One who goes to work every day and who has expectations for herself and her future.  It means confidence and growth and power over her life.

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For Karen and Maryanne and Noreen, this dream started with a visit to our boutique on Commonwealth Avenue.  It started with a suit and a vote of confidence from our staff.  It started with a glimpse in a full length mirror where a capable and confident woman looks back, and calls them to a new life—a self-sufficient life.

There are more than 13,000 women who have looked in that mirror, many went on to get the job and returned to us to collect more clothing and to participate in our monthly seminars that support their new lives.

Our Professional Women’s Group teaches them about checking accounts and credit reports and car loans and tenant’s rights.  And we assure them that they are on their way to achieving realistic goals of economic stability and safety.

There is a Broadway show tune that I think sums up the journey I am describing.  Because I am a song and dance fan, I love the message in these lyrics

It is from the musical “Seesaw” (music: Cy Coleman—lyrics: Dorothy Fields)

 

“It’s not where you start: it’s where you finish,

And you can be cream of the crop

It’s not where you start it’s where you finish….

And you’re gonna finish on top.”

 

None of these women started in a good place—but they know that is only part of their story.  For our clients it matters less where you came from and more where you are going.

We like to think that women find us at the starting gate and we support and encourage them to cross their personal finish line!

Help us to help them change their lives.  Thank you.

 

MEGHAN THE MENTOR

 

By Nancy Schneider Co-Founder

Meghan Houle is a Senior Recruiter for the Bowerman Group, an Executive Search Firm.  She describes herself as “an energizer bunny” and after a conversation with her on the phone recently, I concur.

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Meghan has had a successful career in retail and managed Jasmine Sola on Newbury Street in Boston and went on to the Luis Viton specialty stores in New York City.  She knows fashion and she knows people.  She left the retail world and joined Bowerman Group, an executive search firm, where she screens and tutors  candidates to find the right job for their talents.

She was looking for a volunteer opportunity and asked friends about Dress for Success Boston. She said she had a need to do more and perhaps her skills could help women find the right fit for a job that could change their lives. She was right.

“Meghan is marvelous!”  says Julie Haber, a Dress for Success Boston client who recently joined the Professional Women’s Group.  “She is compassionate and understanding and listens intently to what I am expressing about myself.”

Meghan explains her motivation for volunteering  in our phone conversation: “I deal with some very entitled people in my job and it is refreshing to help people who appreciate my time. I can help.  I can help women break down big tasks into manageable parts”

Volunteers like Meghan are basis of our mentoring program.

Our Professional Women’s Group offers monthly seminars for our clients and we also support relationships like this one.  We can match a client who needs support and information with a successful business woman like Meghan.  The results are fantastic.

Julie continues “Meghan contacts me regularly and shows sincere interest in my progress in the professional world.”

Meghan the mentor listens.  It might be the most important thing she does.  She validates Julie and her quest for self-sufficiency by taking her seriously.  Meghan knows that success often comes in small steps, in breaking down tasks into pieces and making goals reachable.

The Bowerman Group came to a PWG meeting last month. Meghan and her colleagues Rob and Joyce, all professional recruiters, came to share their expertise.   Their presentation was called “How to Tell Your Story” It was designed to show our clients how to brag a bit about their life experiences and their successes. How to sell themselves in an interview and be proud of their assets.

Rob Bowerman, the principal of the company understands what it takes to market yourself.  To have the confidence to sell your assets, to believe in yourself, to know you are valuable—all of these things are critical.

And to have someone who believes in you–and who is willing to listen and encourage–he knows this can make all the difference.  And for these reasons, he has encouraged Meghan to be a mentor.

Success happens with the skills, the confidence and the encouragement to risk.

Success happens when women have a support network–like Dress for Success Boston and the Bowerman Group working together.

Julie, our client says “I am honored to call myself a member of the Dress for Success Professional Women’s Group.  And I must tell you that I adore the suit you gave me—-and I am grateful for your help.”

We are all about the practical tools it takes to reach success—-and we are all about our corporate partners who take the time to help our clients reach for success!

Thank you Meghan—you are making a difference!

And thank you to the Bowerman Group (bowermangroup.com) for your generous support of Dress for Success Boston.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, DRESS FOR SUCCESS BOSTON– YOU ARE 18 YEARS OLD

By Nancy Schneider, Co-Founder

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It’s true!  You made it!  You are an adult! I believe you are here to stay.

There were days when I never thought it would happen—but here you are all established and grown up and still doing what you set out to do.

                                      HAPPY BIRTHDAY DRESS FOR SUCCESS BOSTON

As one of the women who gave birth to you, I am very proud.

In many ways it was easier when you were new.  The agenda was simple.  Give women what they needed–a respectable outfit and some coaching on how to deal with the interview.

We did that, but we also wanted to support the folks who were trying to change their lives.  We formed the PWG the Professional Women’s Group.  We gave seminars in how to survive and thrive in this new world of employment.  Often our clients felt like strangers in a strange land. We offered a Career Center and mentoring and a safe place to learn the ropes of the working world.

The wonderful surprise were the corporate friends who wanted to help.  Women’s groups—church groups—college groups who found this cause and loved it.

On July 11, 2019 we celebrate:

  • The more than 13,000 women we have met and served
  • The hundreds of volunteers who have worked personally with the clients
  • The thousands of women who have given us their beautiful suits and shoes and handbags
  • The companies in Boston who opened their checkbooks and said “yes—we want to help you!”
  • The employees of those companies who helped with our events and sales and donations
  • The Menino Family who found us a permanent home
  • The board members who offered their time and talent and treasure to insure we ran a sound business
  • The staff of dedicated and compassionate women who serve and comfort and support each client each day
  • The hundreds of professionals who gave seminars to our PWG members and listened to their concerns and offered to help when they could

And now you are a “grown up” organization with new challenges and new goals.  As those who love you look to the future,  we are excited by what lies ahead.

We are attracting a new generation of supporters–women and men who want to pitch in and help a new generation of clients  deal with the challenges of self sufficiency.

The clothing styles have changed in 18 years, the supporters have changed as well, but the need for this service has not changed.

To the women who need support, to those who want to start again, to those who hope for a better more independent life–we welcome you and we celebrate your goals and your determination.

To our financial donors–you have made this all possible.  It has been your generosity and compassion that has allowed this mission to thrive.   We thank you.

After 18 years we are a respected part of the Boston Philanthropic Community, and you have made your mother proud!

So let’s make a toast and celebrate this birthday

–and then remember, we still have lots more work to do!

 

The Founder–A Profile

By Nancy Schneider   Co-Founder

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So let’s begin at the beginning.  Who started this Dress for Success thing anyway?

I heard about this organization almost twenty years ago and was immediately drawn to the mission. I was instrumental in making it a reality in Boston, but I am in awe of the woman who first had the idea.  I thought it was brilliant—practical and inspiring all at the same time.  I have come to know the founder of the worldwide organization, and I want to tell you her story and the story of the birth of Dress for Success Worldwide.

Nancy Lublin was 23 years old when she started this now international movement. Today Dress for Success has 155 affiliates in 29 countries.  With determination and courage and almost no support, Nancy made this happen.  It is a wonderful story.

In 1994, Nancy was an unhappy law student at NYU.   Her family had encouraged her to be a lawyer like her father and she was miserable. Growing up in Hartford CT, she had an impressive academic career at Brown University and Oxford.  She came to NYC to pursue another degree when fate stepped in.

One day upon returning from classes she found an envelope waiting for her.  In it was a $5,000 check from the recently settled estate of her great grandfather.  He had come to the U.S. from Poland and became a successful clothing salesman in New York City.

Nancy decided to use the inheritance to do something for people who wanted to change their lives and succeed like he did.

She found some nuns who were doing social work in Spanish Harlem and heard the plight of women who wanted to be economically independent, but didn’t have the support or the clothing to get the initial job that could change their circumstances.

Nancy and the nuns found space in a church basement (across the street from NYU law school) and they began.  They solicited social service agencies for clients.  They asked the agencies to send them women who had interviews scheduled.  Nancy dressed them and the women started getting jobs.

Nancy kept the clothing donations in her apartment.  The jewelry was in the crisper in the refrigerator and the suits hung on the handle of the broom balanced between two chairs.

“I was on fire.” Nancy recounted on a radio interview.  “I was possessed; it was all consuming for me. Nobody wants to be on welfare,” she says emphatically.  But getting to a place of self-sufficiency takes some help often as basic as the right outfit for an interview.

She quickly saw that clients needed more than the suit to succeed and she began the Professional Women’s Group, which was a series of monthly seminars (in the church basement) where her newly employed clients could learn about appropriate behavior, day care options, managing finances—all the basic things that are needed to maintain a new lifestyle –an independent lifestyle.

Nancy operated this business for seven years and then turned it over to a team of women who have continued to make it thrive.  She has founded two additional non- profits since that time.  Both of these dealing with teens who want to contribute to the world around them and be safe.

“I am an entrepreneur,” she says.  “I love the action. I want to make the world a better place.”

You have done that, Nancy Lublin–Dress for Success Boston is living proof of your inspiration and legacy for a better and more equitable world. And there are 13,000 women in Boston whose lives and dreams are thriving because of you!

 

Thank You from another Nancy!

THE STOCK SISTERS

by Nancy Schneider, Co Founder

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Jessica and Samantha Scott are the third generation of a family who founded a financial advisory business located in Framingham. They specialize in educating and supporting women to achieve self-sufficiency.

They are sisters and believers that information is power and that women need to take control of their financial lives by making smart decisions.

They volunteered their time at a recent Professional Women’s Group meeting for Dress for Success Boston and their enthusiasm for success filled our conference room. They offered a primer about stocks and bonds and mutual funds and the advantages of getting into the market and staying there for the long term.

Young and approachable, the Scott sisters were perfect to answer questions for our newly employed clients who are navigating a new world where decisions need to be made.

In simple terms, they defined IRA accounts and differentiated them from Roth IRA accounts and compared them to the 401K accounts that seem to baffle the newly employed.

Best of all, their excitement was contagious.  As advocates for women and folks whose client base is largely women, they understand the challenges for people entering the workforce to deal with risk and security.

Their first piece of advice?  Pay off the credit card debt. Right away.

Next?  Have a three-month nest egg saved so that when the unexpected hits you can go to it and not the credit cards.

Getting some financial traction can make all the difference down the road.  Financial security gives a woman the freedom to make better choices about her life—not just choices to stay afloat but choices that allow her to thrive and have power.

The sisters passed out a booklet that covered things like creating a budget, creating a timeline to a goal and how to calculate one’s net worth.

There were lots of questions.  In this relaxed and respectful atmosphere, the twenty women who came to hear them felt comfortable and willing to share their hopes and dreams. Investing involves some risk and Jessica and Samantha faced that concern head on and described the investments by the amount of risk involved in each vehicle.

And then they discussed the miracle of compounding.

By investing a small amount to start ($500) and adding a modest amount every month and leaving the money untouched for 10-15 or 20 years in an investment paying a higher rate than a bank account, it is possible to turn that money into five figures.

Magic?   Blue smoke and mirrors?  Not at all.  With good advice and saving discipline it becomes a reality.

At the end of the evening, the Stock Sisters offered individual consults to our clients.  They took email addresses and promised to be available to answer questions and to guide the audience in making their first investment.

As I listened and watched this presentation I was struck by the power of women helping women and that when ambition meets knowledge–the sky is the limit.

The women we serve have not had the experience of making long term financial decisions.  In many ways they strangers in a strange land.

With information and support, this can change.

Sometimes it takes more than a suit….

 

Scott Advisory Group

550 Cochituate Road

Framingham, MA

http://www.ScottAdvisoryGroup.com

 

BEVERLY ANN

 

By Nancy Schneider, Co-Founder

 

Beverly Ann Rock .jpg“When the Urban League (a Boston job training agency) sent me to Dress for Success Boston, I was sure I was going to another depressing place where poor people got clothes. I could not have been more mistaken.”

When Beverly arrived at our boutique, she was greeted warmly by our receptionist who offered her refreshment.

“She offered to give me tea!” she recounts incredulously.  “I thought where am I and what is this place?”  She was then greeted by two personal shoppers who selected four outfits for her to try on and the magic began.

“I had been out of work for three years.  I was very depressed,” she told me.  As a trained social worker, she had been let go and as a mature worker her options were not wonderful for re-entry into the profession.  “I did not feel good about myself and my confidence had waned.  When those two wonderful ladies began working with me, I suddenly felt like maybe this could help. Maybe I could do this interview that had been scheduled for me.”

Dressed in her new business-appropriate clothes, she aced the interview and got the job!   And her new boss told her afterward that she presented so well in her business suit and her positive attitude that he was willing to give her a chance.

Beverly also loved the Professional Women’s Group.  Each of our clients who land that job are invited to join our series of monthly seminars for information and support as they navigate a new world with the help of Dress for Success Boston.

“This group raised my horizons.  I was so stimulated by the subjects and the speakers.  We went to the Museum of Fine Arts for a presentation, to the Microsoft offices downtown for a special training, and Melon Bank offered us a program in financial literacy. The Professional Women’s Group raised my horizons and made me aware of new growth opportunities,” she explained.

She has succeeded and thrived as a social worker and now serves on three non-profit boards and is looking at retirement soon.  When she does, she plans to volunteer at Dress for Success Boston and train as a personal shopper.  She wants to pass on that feeling of confidence and possibility that she felt as a client.

“Clothes are not just clothes, you know,” she confides.  “I felt different about myself when I wore that suit long after I got the job.  In fact, I always envied the well-dressed folks I saw on Sundays at my church.  They would all walk down the middle aisle and sit way up front in the sanctuary.  The first week I had that suit, I marched right up front with all those folks and sat where everybody could see me!”

When she did that, a gentleman church goer noticed her for the first time, courted her and they were married five years ago!

Was it the power of clothing that changed Beverly’s life?  Her hard work and belief that she could succeed was surely the motivator—but the clothing helped.

We gave her a suit and some support—she did the rest!

 

 

 

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FINDING A GET WELL JOB

by Nancy Schneider, Co-founder Dress for Success Boston

 

I recently spoke to Joanna McGlame, the Clinical Director of Granada House, about the role Dress for Success Boston plays in helping her clients get back on track.

“How much do we help the process?” I asked her. “A lot,” she replied. “Sweatpants are not going to get anyone a job!”  When their women return from the Dress for Success Boston boutique, they are anxious to show off their clothing and more motivated to take that interview that can lead to beginning a different life.

Granada House is a residential program for folks who are recovering from addiction.  Clients stay there for five or six months learning how to put their lives back together and begin the process of drug-free living.  No small task. There are several inspiring stories on their website that tell about that triumph.

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The program houses 22 residents in a home in Allston.  There are equal numbers of men and women in this recovery program who, when they graduate, can move to a “graduate house” for an additional three months.

Joanna emphasized that clients need a “get well” job during their stay at the house.  The emphasis is not on career building right now, but rather to reintroduce to clients the meaning of a normal life.  They are working the program, going to meetings, obeying the structured rules of the house and an ordinary job and the commitment that involves enhances the message of leading a responsible and disciplined life.

“Often our clients say that the clothes are too fancy at Dress for Success Boston for the jobs they are seeking.” Joanna said during our conversation. Clients are usually applying for retail sales in places like Target and Macy’s and just need basic black pants and white shirts.  I told her we understood the scope of those jobs but we love to give a woman a new blazer and some accessories to spark up the outfit and make her think of the days to come when she will be a professional again.

This agency’s residential program is unique in that it is open to taking in clients with disabilities, which adds another layer of challenge to folks battling addiction.

At Dress for Success Boston, our roster of referral agencies is diverse and always growing.  Literacy programs, shelters, domestic violence programs, addiction programs, half way houses are all welcomed at the boutique on Commonwealth Avenue.  Our mission is simple–we seek to help women survive and thrive and take control of their lives whatever their challenges might be.

And so we add Granada House to the list of grateful friends who see our contribution of clothing and confidence as part of getting well.  We are happy to be helping these women find a “get well job”–even if it doesn’t involve the traditional suit!

***To learn more about Granada House, go to https://granadahouse.org. To learn more about Dress for Success Boston, or to make a donation, go to https://boston.dressforsuccess.org