October 4, 2009
On the road to success: Program equips women with professional attire and more
Special to NWjobs
Susan Ward arrived in Seattle two years ago from Louisiana with very little, and immediately began looking for work.
Job hunting can cause plenty of stress even under the best of circumstances. For women such as Ward who can’t afford an interview outfit or professional attire, it can be particularly harrowing. Through the local YWCA, Ward received a voucher for Dress for Success Seattle, an affiliate of a worldwide program that aims to help economically disadvantaged women work toward self-sufficiency.
The program provides a complete interview outfit, including shoes, jewelry and a handbag, from neatly organized racks of new or gently used donated items. A personal dresser helps clients find the right attire to boost their confidence.
Ward was impressed by the quality of the clothing and says she’d never had anyone shop for her before. “It was like dress-up,” she says. “The woman who helped me made me feel great. She told me, ‘You’re going to get that job.’ ”
Coincidentally, one of the interviews Ward had was for an internship at Dress for Success Seattle. “I came to the interview in the clothes they picked out for me,” says Ward, who landed the internship and worked her way up to become the program assistant at Dress for Success. Once a client lands a job, she can return for two more suits or coordinates.
Since the economic downturn, the need for the program is greater than ever, says Kiantha Duncan-Woods, the program manager. Through late September it had helped about 1,500 women in Seattle.
The seventh annual Closet Treasures Sale, the major fundraising event for Dress for Success Seattle, takes place Oct. 24-25 at the YWCA’s downtown office, 1118 Fifth Ave. (at Seneca).
The First Pick Preview Sale will be held Oct. 24, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., with admission by suggested donation of $35. The general sale is Oct. 25, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., with tours of Dress for Success Seattle on the hour.
Donations of new or gently used designer and name-brand clothing, shoes, handbags and accessories can be made at the downtown location, or at YMCA Family Village, 16601 N.E. 80th St., Redmond, through Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
“The job market is far more competitive,” Duncan-Woods says. “And the face of clients that we are seeing is changing. It’s everyone -- [including] the person who has always had a job [and] the person who never before needed a job.”
She adds that it’s now more common for overqualified people to apply for positions they previously wouldn’t have considered, which can push low-income women into even lower-paying positions.
In that light, Dress for Success also aims to help its members develop their careers and retain their jobs through the Professional Women’s Group, which meets monthly for networking and support.
“We have speakers who cover topics like self-image, empowerment, financial literacy and other tools to help them keep the job,” Duncan-Woods says.
Dress for Success Seattle operates from the lower level of the YWCA’s downtown office. It shares space and resources with the YWCA’s Working Wardrobe program, which provides business clothing, shoes and accessories to low-income women.
Duncan-Woods says that partnering with the YWCA means women have access to a wide range of services that go hand-in-hand with job seeking.
“There’s an employment services division, which offers computer classes and other ways for women to find job opportunities,” she says. The holistic approach also includes help with housing, child care, counseling and a homeless resource center.
“There’s not a lot of places where you can see happiness and a glimmer of hope,” Duncan-Woods says. “And we get to see that every day.”
For more information about Dress for Success Seattle and YWCA Working Wardrobe, call 206-325-3453 or visit dressforsuccess.org/seattle.
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