Oregon Dress for Success receives world-wide recognition

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By Traci Scott,
Portland Writer

Dress for Success Oregon is the 2009 winner of the Nancy Lublin Founders Award, the highest honor given worldwide for the 93 Dress for Success organizations

Founded in New York City in 1997 by Nancy Lublin, Dress for Success is an international not-for-profit organization offering services designed to promote the economic independence of disadvantaged women by providing professional attire, a network of support and the career development tools to help women thrive in work and in life.  Since 1997, Dress for Success has served almost 450,000 women around the world.

The Oregon affiliate chapter of Dress for Success began in 1999.  In 2008, Dress for Success Oregon was able to provide interview-appropriate clothing for over 1,200 women and educational services and career growth counseling to over 200 women. In 2009, demand has increased so rapidly that DFSO provided services to over 1,200 clients in the first six months of the year alone.

“Oregon served three times as many women this year as last. Women searching for jobs in the northwest have an exemplary organization to help them achieve their goals. We honor our Portland partner for the extraordinary services they provide,” announced Joi Gordon, Worldwide Executive Director of Dress for Success, who presented the tribute at the annual Dress for Success banquet in New York City.

Oregon Executive Director Barb Attridge noted, “We are thrilled and honored to be the 2009 recipient of the Nancy Lublin Award and to be recognized for our work with low income women. We all know that when women have financial resources of their own, they are empowered and can free themselves from circumstances—poverty, homeless, abuse—that they thought they had to endure.  When a woman is empowered, her whole family is empowered—and that is how we can end the cycle of poverty.”

Dress for Success serves clients by referral only, and women must have an interview scheduled before receiving clothing. Each Dress for Success client receives one suit when she has a job interview and can return for a second suit or separates when she finds work.  Over 100 agencies in Oregon currently refer clients to Dress for Success Oregon.

While best known for providing suits to women, it is their employment retention programs—the Professional Women’s Group and Career Corner—that are the bread and butter of the organization.  Dress for Success recognizes that finding work is only the first step in a woman’s journey towards economic independence; remaining employed and building a fulfilling career are essential if a woman is to become self-sufficient.

Dress for Success boasts many success stories, including that of Julie McDonald, a single mother unemployed for almost a year who was living with friends and family while searching for a solution that would allow her to be independent and support her child.  During this difficult time, her self esteem plummeted and she gained 30 lbs.

Fortunately, Julie was referred to Dress for Success where a personal shopper helped her select a special outfit and build her confidence for the interview she had the next day. She went to that job interview feeling professional and self-confident and she was hired as an office manager at a dental office. Her life changed for the better and Julie is now a member of the Professional Women’s Group, which she says helps her build and maintain confidence in herself and her abilities. “Thanks to the support provided by Dress for Success, I am now supporting myself and my son!” states Julie.

Another success story is that of Mamie Powell.  After struggling to find work for over a year, Mamie found herself struggling with depression, anxiety, low self-esteem and the urge to return to drinking. Living on welfare and facing possible homelessness, she began to lose hope.

A job search program Mamie was working with referred her to Dress for Success, where she said she was treated like a queen on her first visit. After being treated so specially and receiving two amazing interview outfits, she said that she felt more confident in herself and her ability to find employment. Mamie is now working for the State of Oregon Vocational Rehabilitation helping others find employment and she herself now refers women to Dress for Success.  She is also a member of the Professional Women’s Group.