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All suited up

"That old Vanessa is gone. I am a woman who is caring, compassionate, educated and professional." Vanessa Moore draws a real distinction between her life a few years ago when she was just out of prison, homeless with two children. Now, as an employed mother and graduate student, she mentors other women.

After serving her three years in prison and finishing her degree at Metropolitan State University, Moore felt something was still missing in her life.

"I was expected to go to work and be a professional, but I didn't know how to do that," Moore said. "I had a degree but no work experience. I had never heard of a 30-second elevator speech."

That's where Dress for Success Twin Cities entered Moore's life. When a volunteer counselor told her it was "time to step out of your comfort zone; you don't know what opportunities you are limiting yourself to," she said, "It was like my 'aha' moment."

The group, an affiliate of an international organization, helps women to enter and thrive in the mainstream workplace. It promotes self-sufficiency for women through job readiness and employment retention programs. And Dress for Success provides professional clothing for women who are at or below the poverty level who may not have access to a workday wardrobe.

After she came out of the first appointment with an image coach to help her select clothing, Moore described her new confidence. "I can look good and feel good," she said. "I walked away with that."

The women learn to "dress for success" - both physically and metaphorically.

"We all have that outfit we wear that we feel we look good in," said executive director Jeri Quest. "It gives you a sense of confidence and power and strength. We seek to give [clients] that same feeling. They can do this. If they feel like they look like those around them, they are more confident."

The program does not end with getting the clothing or the job.

"They don't just give you a suit and cut you loose," Moore said.

Moore's next step after landing a job was joining Dress for Success' Professional Women's Group program (PWG), for networking and ongoing career skill development. There she saw and heard from successful women as role models and mentors.

"I call the PWG women my sisters. We have the camaraderie and power of women of all different walks of life when we come together with one goal - to be successful and live our dreams."

Dress for Success serves 600 women in the Twin Cities each year. The biggest obstacle to serving more women is the need for more volunteers. The more volunteers the group has, the more women it can serve. "The enthusiasm, coaching and excitement to help, combined with the client's desire to succeed, make it something really special," Quest said.

• Provided by referral only from more than three dozen agencies around the metro area. See a list at tinyurl.com/k9ovrfz

• For individuals: Image consulting, social media outreach, special events, administrative assistance, mentoring and public speaking.
• For groups: Sorting donated suits and accessories.
• Contact: office@dressforsuccesstwincities.org or 651-646-6000.

• Suits, blazers, blouses, pants and skirts, purses, closed-toe shoes and scarves are welcomed.
• Clothing must be in nearly new condition and must be current.
• Dress for Success accepts clothing donations by appointment only at their Twin Cities headquarters, located at 1549 University Ave., St. Paul.

FFI: Dress for Success, 651-646-6000 or twincities@dressforsuccess.org

Where do you see women connecting and making change in your world? Send me your story, magnuson@womenspress.com


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