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Alliance of Career Development Nonprofits
c/o The Women’s Alliance
1775 Eye Street, NW
Suite 1150
Washington, D.C. 20006

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1775 Eye Street, NW, Suite 1150
Washington, D.C. 20006
United States

We’re a growing network of career development nonprofits that provide business attire for women and men seeking work, empowering them to economic independence.

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Filtering by Tag: ACDN benefits

[ACDN Interview Feature] Sharan McPadden, Co-Founder, Suit Yourself, Inc.

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Sharan McPadden

Sharan McPadden

ACDN:  How long have you been involved with your agency and the Alliance of Career Development Nonprofits (ACDN)?

Sharan: I have had the privilege of being part of Suit Yourself (SY) from the very beginning--before the organization even had a name. Suit Yourself Inc., was born based on a student’s request for professional attire for a job interview. A focus group was created of professional women in Lake, Geauga and Ashtabula counties who work with other non-profit organizations. After our initial meeting it was evident that there was a need in our area and the beginning planning stages of Suit Yourself, Inc. was launched in November of 2003. Suit Yourself, Inc. has been a member of ACDN since 2006. Several of our Board Members attended the first [ACDN] national conference held in Dayton, Ohio which gave us a strong foundation in establishing our organization.

ACDN: What makes your organization special or unique?

Sharan: Our two boutiques are located in Lake County and Ashtabula County. Lake is geographically the smallest county in Ohio; and neighboring Ashtabula County is geographically the largest county (and goes all the way to the Pennsylvania border). In spite of those challenges, we have an excellent working relationship with our network of referring agencies. We do not charge our referring agencies a fee.  Our well-run client referral process serves women who are actively job seeking or have a scheduled interview. However, we pride ourselves on our willingness to handle unique requests. Agency representatives know they can reach out directly to Suit Yourself to suit a client on Christmas eve so she can start a new job on December 26 or provide a week's worth of professional clothing to a woman in a domestic violence shelter on a Sunday so she can go to work the next day without her coworkers knowing about her situation.

Suit Yourself Inc. Founding Board Members: (left to right) Sharan McPadden, Barbara Britt, and Midge Mramor. Suit Yourself, located in Painesville, OH, has been a member of ACDN since 2006.

Suit Yourself Inc. Founding Board Members: (left to right) Sharan McPadden, Barbara Britt, and Midge Mramor. Suit Yourself, located in Painesville, OH, has been a member of ACDN since 2006.


Suit Yourself, Inc. has a strong working Board where each member of the Board chairs a committee.  We have no paid staff so the Board relies on its volunteers not only to help serve clients, but to assist with donation day, serve on committees, and assemble our care packages.  We ask our volunteers to share their special talents.  For example, we had a volunteer who loved to scrapbook.  She became our historian and documented the first several years of our organization in beautiful decorated scrapbooks. At one time, we had a volunteer who was our “shoe lady”—yes, she would polish all the shoes and keep them organized and presentable looking on the shelving unit.  Our success is driven by our volunteers. We focus on making sure they know they are appreciated. They have one-on-one contact with all Officers and Board members when they volunteer with Suit Yourself and their suggestions for change are incorporated in boutique operations and policy development.  For National Volunteer Appreciation month last April we gave volunteers tickets to our spring fundraiser at a recently restored Steele Mansion, a high-demand venue. To reduce expenses, this April's National Volunteer Appreciation event was held at a local hospital but we planned to give the institution a "tea room ambiance" by bringing in china, silver, and teacups. Each volunteer went home with the flower centerpieces.  Our Board and volunteers are so dedicated and passionate about the mission of Suit Yourself. We work together and as the saying goes, ‘many hands make for light work.’

 
Suit Yourself Board Members

Suit Yourself Board Members

 

ACDN: How has this work affected you?

Sharan: I have a greater appreciation for humanity being part of this organization. Grateful for the clients I serve who are sometimes at the lowest point of their lives yet so optimistic; and, thankful for our faithful donors and community who believe in our mission. I find helping others to be extremely gratifying. 

ACDN: What is the biggest challenge in your role and how are you overcoming this challenge?

Sharan: From a start-up organization to a 15-year history the challenges have changed. As a founding Board member I have served as the Treasurer, Vice President and President. The initial challenges were writing the by-laws, facilitating our first fundraiser (where we raised $300) and obtaining non-profit status. The struggle of finding a location conducive to our client’s needs in both Lake and Ashtabula counties, yet within our budget and maintaining a budget is a challenge.  Our first clothing drive was quite interesting and rather funny now looking back because we have come so far and it’s like a well-oiled machine.  However, to me, the biggest challenge that still remains is trying to assemble a Z-rack

ACDN: Tell us about your signature fundraising event.

Sharan: We hold one main signature event each year and several small events. Our signature event is a reverse raffle held in Ashtabula County. In addition to the raffle, side boards, bingo, and auction items there is dancing.  A successful reverse raffle enables us to have a balanced budget. 

ACDN: Share a client story.

Sharan: Serving clients is a privilege and rewarding experience. Each client story is unique. It’s an emotional job knowing where our clients are coming from; however, it’s very important to make sure the client feels comfortable and safe, as you don’t always know their story. I have been doing this for a long time so I consider myself a seasoned volunteer. One particular client that stands out is a lady who needed professional apparel for her job interview.  The suiting went very well and when she left I asked her if I could give her a hug for good luck. You see, that client told me she grew up in the fostering system as a child going from one placement to another it was not until she met her husband did anyone ever hug her or tell her they loved her.  

Another story that comes to mind is the client I served during the winter months in Northeast Ohio where we had frigid temperatures and snow covered the sidewalks. The client I was serving was referred to us from Forbes House (a domestic violence shelter). It was an emergency placement as she only had the clothes on her back. Suit Yourself provided the client with a professional outfit to wear the next day to court and several outfits for work, including a winter coat. This suiting was unique as the client brought along her two children where one child was carrying a blanket because it was so cold and windy outside as they walked there. The highlight of that suiting was giving her daughter a beautiful heart shaped necklace to surprise her mom with for Valentine’s Day. Of course, the little girl could not wait until then so her mom opened up the gift at our boutique. The look and expression on both faces was priceless and still brings tears to my eyes. For those that believe in the circle of life, Suit Yourself has served a client who was going through a rough patch in life and gave her the apparel she needed to land a job. Not only did she land a job, she now works for a referring agency of ours and refers clients to us. Every client story is unique and personal. To me, volunteering is more than just suiting the client. It’s letting them know we believe in them and support them on this new chapter of their life. 

ACDN: Being a member of ACDN enables our agency to…

Sharan: …keep abreast of the current trends and best practices of client services, serving women, marketing and fundraising.

If it were not for ACDN… 

Sharan:  ...Suit Yourself would not have a combined buying power that allows us to purchase items at a substantial lower cost and work with other agencies with our mission. 

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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. 

Janie Wolicki Best, CEO/Executive Director, WHW [ACDN Interview Feature]

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ACDN: How long have you been involved with your agency and ACDN?

JWB: March 2017 marks my 6 year anniversary as CEO/Executive Director at WHW.  We joined ACDN back in 2003! 

ACDN: What makes your organization special or unique?

JWB: The mission of WHW is to provide the unemployed and underemployed the skills and resources they need to get and keep a good job. Since 1993, WHW has served over 80,000 job seekers referred by over 275 partner agencies at no charge.

In order to accomplish this, WHW provides wrap around employment support services for thousands of job seekers each year.  Programs include more than 60 Employment Readiness and Computer Training Workshops, Job Placement Assistance, Employment Retention Support and Professional Apparel for both women and men. There’s something for everyone!  Job seekers are able to choose the workshops and programs that are best suited to their job search and that address their particular need. This is important since WHW serves all job seekers, whether they are entry level or seasoned executives.

WHW is a very data driven organization, investing in technology to effectively evaluate and measure the success and impact of programs.  These evaluations and measurements are used to refine and create new programs based on job seeker needs and outcomes.  WHW regularly provides these statistics and metrics to supporters to verify the impact of their investments.  Metrics include number of job seekers served, number of job seekers who gain employment, percentage of job seekers who are still employed 90 days after employment, among others.  Current data shows that 75% of WHW job seekers who are enrolled in our Employment Readiness services will get a job within 4 months, which is three times faster than the national average of 12 months.  And 90% of those employed will still have their job 90 days later, increasing their household income by over 600% and saving our community over $30 million in social assistance payments.

ACDN: How has this work affected you? 

JWB: It is incredibly rewarding to be a part of changing someone’s life.  We empower each of our job seekers to see someone in the mirror who can, instead of someone who can’t. And in the bigger picture an entire family is changed and a community is improved. Being part of a solution that gives people hope and often times a second chance is something most people never experience.  

ACDN: What is your biggest challenge as an Executive Director and how are you overcoming this challenge?

JWB: To remain relevant and to make a real impact, WHW must be very nimble and flexible in our programs and their delivery; which means constant CHANGE.  Bringing about change in an organization with 11 staff and over 1,000 volunteers can be challenging.  I have tried to create an environment where change and innovation are highly valued.  Those who are delivering direct service to our job seekers have great insight and their opinions are highly mean a lot.  As a fundamentally impatient person, change never happens quickly enough for me. But I constantly remind myself that a freight train can’t stop on a dime!

ACDN: Tell us a success story about your organization. 

JWB: Two years ago, WHW moved from a clunky, old Access database for our client intake to a very sophisticated platform, which is a customized version of Salesforce.  As a result, we have become very data centric, and are able to provide rich outcomes to both funders and individual donors, which clearly demonstrate the impact of their investment in WHW.  We’ve also been able to expand the database to include volunteer registration and scheduling, which has allowed WHW staff members to focus more on development and program delivery and less on administration.

ACDN: Tell us a client story.

JWB: When Russell Cannon walked through the doors of WHW, he had been in the Welfare to Work program for 2 years; he was underemployed, he had no transportation and he had no insurance.  And the worst thing…he was about to lose custody of his 1-year old daughter. Russell did not believe that the state program was working. WHW staff and volunteers diligently addressed the particular needs that Russell had as a job seeker. Russell participated in Employment Readiness Workshops that empowered him with an effective resume and confident interviewing skills.  Russell also received professional apparel and accessories that helped him to stand out from other job seekers and become a marketable candidate for jobs that he had only dreamed about.  Russell shared that WHW programs “provided relevant content that gave me the skills to find, negotiate and retain full-time employment with good pay and benefits.”  Today, Russell has three jobs!  He is an Assistant to the Executive Chef at Disneyland responsible for feeding over 23,000 cast members; he is also a Lead Cook at Orange Hill Restaurant overseeing the Sunday Brunch, which was for the first time in their history, voted the 2016 Best Brunch in Orange County. And his most important job is a full time Daddy to his now 2-year old daughter.  Russell recently shared with WHW supporters, “if it were not for your donations, I would still be in the Welfare to Work program, just looking for any job I could get.  I would most likely be underemployed, still have no transportation or insurance and my precious daughter would be a ward of the County.  The reality is those whose donations enabled me to be part of WHW, saved money, because now I can pay my own way, I can pay my own taxes and I can leave something for the generation that follows me.”

ACDN: Complete these statements:

Being a member of ACDN enables our agency to… 

JWB: …share and learn best practices from other organizations working toward the same goal of helping people get back to work. Being a member of ACDN allows WHW to be part of something bigger than just our own community; we are contributing to the betterment of communities nationwide.

If it were not for ACDN, … 

JWB: …WHW would not have access to the wholesale buying power of ACDN.  Plus size suits available to partner agencies has been a true blessing to WHW.

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.