I have been Executive Director of Dress for Success Austin for 11 ½ years.
What does your organization do?
The mission of Dress for Success is to empower women to achieve economic independence by providing a network of support, professional attire and development tools to help them thrive in work and in life.
Austin is affiliated with a global organization…Dress for Success Worldwide. Dress for Success was founded in 1996 in New York City in a church basement in Harlem with 3 nuns working with a young philanthropically-minded woman. Today affiliates are found in 150 cities throughout the world. Dress for Success Worldwide provides the brand, guidelines and policy oversight but each affiliate is responsible for their own financial and donor support.
Best known for providing professional attire for job interviews, Dress for Success Austin has moved from that single initiative to offering several programs that support women as they seek employment and even after they’ve entered the workplace. Programs include:
• Career Center services such as resume preparation, interview skills, on-line job applications, etc.
• Interview Preparation Classes run for 8-10 weeks and help women write resumes, identify transferable job skills, learn to interview.
• Professional attire helps women feel empowered when they interview as they are dressed in professional clothing
• Professional Women’s Group (PWG) is for employed women who want to continue with professional development and educational opportunities. This group meets monthly.
• Certified Life Coaches are available for women who want one-on-one help with personal issues that may be affecting their professional and personal life.
• Financial Literacy classes help women learn to budget and make wise financial decisions.
• Mentors are available for women as they learn to adjust to a new job setting.
• Entrepreneurship is a new offering for those women who desire to start their own businesses.
• Other programs offered dependent on funding are Health and Wellness and Computer Literacy.
How did you become interested in this work?
I retired from the educational arena in early 2000s. At that time, I accompanied my husband (who was employed with an oil-related industry in Houston) while he worked in Mexico, China and Italy. When we decided to return to the U.S., we chose Austin as our home. My eldest daughter is one of the founding board members of Dress for Success Austin. She and another board member asked if I would step into the newly vacated position as in interim director. I became hooked…and continue on to this day.
What drives your passion?
It’s difficult to work here and not feel the energy, caring and dedication to the mission that is evidenced as a team of volunteers and staff help nearly 1,000 women each year from six Central Texas counties. While I seldom work directly with clients anymore as I am more involved in administration and operations, from my office I hear the conversations between volunteers and clients. So much happens to move a woman from low self-esteem to a sense of empowerment. We are a staff of 5…one full time (me), three-part time and one contract. Serving 1,000 women each year takes the staff and over 200 active volunteers. As I say this, one might visualize a scene of many volunteers helping women with clothes, resumes, and information-giving and there is that but what really happens here is a lot of small magical moments interspersed throughout the day. These magical moments happen as each volunteer meets her client at her point of need. The volunteer listens, is interested, isn’t judgmental, discovers the client’s goals and dreams and helps her with information and a plan of action.
Did you have a mentor or role model?
Coming out of education as a counselor and jumping into the nonprofit world was a huge learning curve for me. The director and founder of Dress for Success Houston had the experience I needed to tap into and she was a very willing mentor. Additionally, each year Dress for Success Worldwide hosts a global leadership conference. It is during this conference that a great deal of learning and sharing happens.
When I joined Dress for Success, there were 5 members of the Board of Directors. Each one mentored me through the first couple of years with their own expertise and experience.
What's the biggest challenge in your work?
The biggest challenge for any nonprofit is that of having sufficient financial resources to maintain operations while also meeting our growing needs. There are so many nonprofits in the Austin area and we are all competing for the same dollars in order to continue providing our services and programs. Not an easy task!!!
What's the best advice that you have ever received?
The Executive Director of Dress for Success Houston told me early on that our position would require what seems like juggling many balls all at the same time. After only a few months, I had to concur with her description. She went on to say that it’s important to take each day as it comes but with a positive eye on the future.
What are your top tips for new Executive Directors?
1. Immediately find a mentor. The mentor might be another director or individuals from your board of directors.
2. Don’t let days where there are disappointments and even failures take away the joy of knowing that you are giving of yourself to help those less fortunate. BE POSITIVE even when it’s hard.
3. Reach out into the community. The Austin community holds many organizations and businesses that are so willing to share their time and expertise. Use them. They want to feel your joy.