The future is bright

Dress for Success helps women land better jobs
Alyssa Whitfield
Alyssa Whitfield
Photo by Michael Hanlon

Sometimes, not knowing your path can lead you right to where you need to be. 

Alyssa Whitfield never imagined herself working in nonprofits, let alone running one. She had a background working in retail and loved fashion but didn’t know where in her career it would take her. After working for a sporting goods manufacturer and feeling unfulfilled, she began to work for Roland Williams’s foundation and thus her first foray into the nonprofit world. She realized there was more to a job than just selling product and that through work, you could serve a community. Alyssa continued to work for other nonprofits for fifteen years, yet she still felt as though something was missing. After sitting down and thinking about what she always loved and what kind of impact she wanted to have on the world, it was clear. All the signs pointed to something in fashion and giving back to the community in a meaningful way. It was then that she remembered seeing commercials for the Dress for Success nonprofit and found her perfect match. 

The Dress for Success Rochester Chapter has been open since 2015, and has served close to 700 women. The organization gives women the confidence to set out boldly in their career with all the tools and resources they need. And the organization is about so much more than the clothes. When a woman makes an appointment, not only is she fitted for a new, professional outfit, but she is matched with a volunteer, professional mentor who coaches her for the interview process. Her résumé is reviewed and edited, and she is taught to translate her current skills into other positions she may not have ever considered applying for. Once she has a job offer, she receives a ten-piece wardrobe and the opportunity to work with a mentor for the first ninety days. The services don’t end there; if needed, the woman can be connected with resources if she is running into issues that are hindering her work, such as childcare or transportation.

Rochester’s chapter of Dress for Success also hosts a half day conference called Success in Sight for women in entry- and mid-level positions. Those in attendance have the opportunity to learn from community business professionals about financial wellness and how to overcome different employment issues. Whitfield’s favorite part of the day is the Resourcefulness and Resiliency panel, which is made up of women that have gone through the program and who talk about their achievements, giving advice and being ambassadors for Dress for Success.

The future of Dress for Success is bright. Whitfield hopes that in the near future there will be a mobile Dress for Success boutique. There are many disadvantaged women who cannot make it the brick-and-mortar shop, and she hopes to bring it to them. 

As long as there are underemployed women in the Rochester community lacking the financial stability necessary to cover all of their expenses, there will be Dress for Success. “Any woman who can’t get a job and wants one is at a disadvantage and we need to help her. This is any woman, and I am so proud of the diversity of women who come through. We’ve had teachers with master’s degrees and women with no high school diplomas. And clearly we’re doing something here, because it is working for everybody.” says Whitfield. 

The Rochester Chapter of Dress for Success plans to have have its major fundraiser on May 29 at Anthology (check the website for possible COVID-19–related rescheduling). You can learn more about the organization by visiting rochester.dressforsuccess.org. 

Betsy Harris is a born-and-bred 585-er and loves all things local. You can follow all of her adventures on Instagram at @betsysayshey.

Categories: Betsy Harris, Current Issue Features, Style

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