The chance encounters of this journey are the ones that imprint deepest in me. I figured there had to be something interesting in Missoula besides bicycles and was intrigued when Dress for Success popped up in an Internet search. Probably because I am such a lousy dresser. I sent a cold email and received a warm response from Terri Griffith, Board President and Operations Manager. When I arrived at their storefront in late afternoon, her personal reception was even warmer.
What do you do if you are a fifty-year-old woman looking for your first job after raising children, a homeless woman seeking permanent employment, a released felon looking for a job to accompany parole? You may have had a job training class but you’ve still got nothing to wear for that all-important interview. Time to call Dress for Success, a worldwide affiliation of local groups that make women look their best as they step into the work world.
Thirty-seven different organizations in Missoula, from shelters to prisons, send women to Dress for Success, where they are treated like individual beauties and given the clothes, jewelry, and the ever-important shoes, along with hair and make-up tips, to engage the work world in confidence. “We get a lot of referrals from the YWCA, which has a program to relocate battered women to different areas of the country. The transformation we see is amazing.”
The front room of Dress for Success is an office with a touch of bling. Terri has a desk, as does Susan, the boutique manager and Carol, a grant writer. But there are also stands of necklaces and trays holding earrings. Susan toured me through the back where they have racks of business attire in all sizes and styles, a pair of dressing rooms and a fitting area. “When women are referred. we set up an appointment. We guide them to business appropriate clothes and help them coordinate outfits. We want them to look good and feel good.” Everything is donated, both by individuals and retail outfits like Target and Macy’s.
All three women radiate a generosity of sprit that I’ve learned can only come from experiencing, and overcoming, hardship. Terri is a felon who earned her degree after release and works as a Mental Health Case Manager when not volunteering at Dress for Success. Susan was a snowbird until she found herself alone and without job skills in her early fifties. Carol is quiet; she displays calm certainty without revealing details. These women are so good at this because they’ve been there and come out well. Every woman who walks in the door of Dress for Success encounters a role model.
How will we live tomorrow?
“I live in a hopeful state every day. You get by the best you can and try to be compassionate with each other. I don’t know where my hopefulness comes from. Sometimes I see women being pushed back from feminism. In the early 70’s, when the world was changing for women, you wanted to take off by yourself, but were pulled back by your family and the community. I was raised by a single mom, yet I have always had this idea of family life with a man. How do you model that? I raised two children and have four grandchildren. I want them to self identify as smart and beautiful.” – Susan
“Somewhere, somehow we lost morals and values. The only time to help people out is in disaster. I grew up on military bases until age seventeen. You knew your neighbors and their parents. Not anymore. I hope God will slap people in the face and make people realize we should be proud of what we have, not expect what we have.” – Carol
“Ideally, how we will live tomorrow is that people will stop being so self-absorbed and realize how much we get when we reach out to others. Giving a hand out doesn’t do anything good for anyone. Give a hand out, it leads to entitlement. Give a hand up. People appreciate that and give a hand up to others. – Terri Griffith