ACDN: How long have you been involved with Suited for Change?
SL: I have been a Board member of Suited for Change (SFC) for about two years and became the Board Treasurer about one year ago. For the past five months, along with another Board member, I have been the Acting Co-Executive Director when the Executive Director at the time stepped down. As Board members, this time has given us real insight into the organization and its needs and we will be better Board members because of it.
ACDN: What is unique about Suited for Change?
SL: At Suited for Change, we know that a well-dressed woman is a powerful woman. We serve women who have overcome tremendous obstacles on their way to self-sufficiency and are ready to re-enter the workforce. SFC addresses barriers unaccounted for by other workforce programs. We provide professional attire, personalized style mentoring and job-readiness skills to women seeking financial independence. Along with professional clothing, the women who come to Suited for Change gain a renewed sense of power and confidence. Our clothing and mentoring sessions help women enter job interviews with the capacity to succeed.
ACDN: What inspires you?
SL: The women who come to the Suited for Change boutique each day are an inspiration. They arrive at the boutique nervous, often with little confidence, and without appropriate work clothing. Some have been victims of domestic violence. Others have been incarcerated. They are single parents with young children. But all of our clients have been through job training programs and are ready for their first interview. With the help of our volunteer stylists, they are transformed to professional women ready for the workforce. To see this transformation and hear their stories, to know the path that they have travelled, that is an inspiration.
ACDN: Tell us a client story.
SL: A few weeks ago, I had the great pleasure of helping "suit" a group of women who were completing the culinary training program at DC Central Kitchen. They were about to graduate from the program and came to Suited for Change for interview clothing. I was lucky to attend their graduation breakfast and hear their stories and their extraordinary journeys. One of the women who had been through the suiting program had never held a job. She was a single parent and shy. She emerged from the boutique beautifully dressed in a black suit with a white silk blouse and pearls. At the graduation, I was delighted to learn that she had been hired at the Ritz Carlton as a pastry chef. This is just one story of many each day.
ACDN: What are our challenges in the months ahead?
SL: The most important concern facing our organization is the accessibility of our programs, both for women preparing for interviews, and those returning after having secured a job. Between being a single parent and beginning a new career, some of our clients find visiting our boutique during regular hours a significant barrier. We are located in an office building downtown. This has its advantages in accessibility for some but for others it can be challenging to get to. To provide our clients with additional appointment times and increase capacity, SFC has begun offering weekend suiting hours and we hope to also add evening hours in 2017. We also need to explore whether we should be offering transportation stipends to some of our clients to make it easier to get to us.
Our membership in ADCN allows us to stay connected to what other organizations throughout the country that operate in a similar space. We share a common understanding of the many challenges these women face on their path to financial sustainability.
Note: as of publishing this blog, Suited for Change has hired a permanent Executive Director, Kate Dean.
ACDN’s Interview Feature showcases ACDN Member leaders. This includes founders, executive directors, and program managers. The interviews offer a more in-depth perspective on the critical work our member agencies do throughout the year and demonstrates the impact on their community.