On October 8, Dress for Success Louisville will celebrate their 15th anniversary at the Galt House Hotel with their Dining Out In Style event. The occasion pays tribute to the thousands of women that Dress for Success Louisville has helped re-enter the workforce by providing them interview attire as well as career and life guidance. The Voice-Tribune caught up with some of the key people behind its success â€“ clients as well as volunteers â€“ who have helped change the working landscape of Louisville one suit at a time.
For more information about Dress for Success Louisville or to purchase ticketsÂ for the event, visit louisville.dressforsuccess.org/events or call 502.584.8050.
When it comes to Dress for SuccessÂ Louisville, Pat Peet is a veteran. In the same way that Louisville chapter co-founder Shannon White discovered Dress for Success through a segment on â€œ60 Minutes,â€ so did Peet, who was so energized by the cause that she got her check book out.
â€œThere was a show on â€˜60 Minutesâ€™ where they were interviewing a lady who started [Dress for Success],â€ explains Peet, who for years worked at General Electric. â€œ[The founder] was an attorney, and she perceived the need for women to be dressed appropriately for interviews,â€ recalls Peet.
She remembers watching and learning how the simple act of giving a suit was able to transform someoneâ€™s life.
â€œThe women were so touched by their new look â€“ and you could see they walked taller â€“ and it made a difference to them. When I saw this, I wrote a check. Shannon White and Marcia Fackler started the Louisville chapter of Dress for Success. As soon as I heard they had started it, I called and said, â€˜Let me volunteer. Teach me how to do it.â€™â€
And so, Peet has been a regular at Dress for Success since 2000, working in the store from its humble roots in a basement with only a few outfits to choose from, to the current location with a basement that stretches far and wide, sometimes with identical outfits in numerous fits â€“ able to cater to ladies of all shapes and sizes.
â€œDownstairs is our area where we are able to keep so many clothes. You can see our corporate partners have sent us clothes in every size, one or two of every size,â€ explains Peet, as she points to racks of suits and pants as far as the eye can see. â€œAt one point in time, Tiffanyâ€™s ordered Italian wool suits for all of their staff. I donâ€™t know what happened, but apparently they did not pass muster. They got sent to us, so we dressed our ladies in Italian wool suits. I think every single lady we dressed in those got their job after the interview!â€
â€œThey looked like they should be running the place,â€ Peet adds with a laugh.
Sheâ€™s also always sure to keep in mind that while some sizes may prove to be a challenge, itâ€™s only a temporary roadblock thatâ€™s lifted once one of the organizationâ€™s many loyal donors drops something off.
â€œSometimes itâ€™s hard to outfit some of our ladies who might be 4X or 5X, but there are ladies in Louisville who go shopping and go to every sale and bring us brand new suits in large sizes.â€
As well as helping to suit every lady that walks through their door, Peet also makes her own regular contribution in the form of shoes.
â€œI also go to Zappos and look at their sale wall where you can get some amazing deals,â€ she adds. â€œSo thatâ€™s kind of my donation every once in a while because I know how hard it is to get certain sizes, and I know they need to be replaced.â€
But Peet looks back on the days when Dress for Success Louisville was still in its humble early stages and compares it to todayâ€™s great success â€“ a time when clients come in and receive not only a suit but also five days worth of work clothes that they can mix and match.
â€œAt that time, it was just an interview suit; it wasnâ€™t five days of clothes because we just didnâ€™t have this huge inventory. We had a little room, and hopefully we had enough to make a suit.â€
How times have changed.
Shannon White recalls the exact moment she knew she wanted to open up the very first Dress for Success in Louisville. It all started in front of the television set. Back in 1999, the mother of 1 -year-old twin boys, for whom she had left the corporate world to raise, White found her new calling.
â€œI was watching â€˜60 Minutesâ€™ and saw Dress for Success being featured,â€ recalls White.
â€œI literally jumped up off the couch and said â€˜I have to get involved in this.â€™â€
But a call to the headquarters in New York soon revealed to White how much work she had ahead of her.
â€œI called the office and told them I had a closet full of clothes that I wanted to donate, so I asked to be connected with the Dress for Success in Louisville.â€
The answer from the other end revealed that there was no branch in Louisville or Kentucky as a whole. The choice seemed simple â€“ either drive two hours to donate her clothes in Cincinnati or start a new chapter.
â€œI sent in all the paperwork and a $200 personal check, and I started Dress for Success,â€ recalls White.
While today White has taken a backseat from the running of Dress for Success â€“ now simply volunteering her time â€“ the appeal of the organizationâ€™s message and ethos is no less potent.
â€œI loved the idea that something so simple as a suit could have such an important impact in a womanâ€™s life,â€ explains White. â€œBy giving them suits, youâ€™re not only giving them clothes but youâ€™re giving them the confidence, and itâ€™s really that confidence thatâ€™s so impactful.
â€œWe have women who come in and look down on their feet and have no confidence and as soon as they put on a power suit or clothes that fit and make them feel awesome, their entire demeanor changes.â€
In fact, there is still one client that stands out from the early days of Dress for Success who helped White realize what an impact the organization was having with such seemingly simple gestures.
â€œA woman came in, and she was a size 3X,â€ recalls White. â€œShe was staring at the floor and was in a t-shirt that was too big, an old presidential campaign one. She had on a baggy pair of shorts and kept looking at the floor even though we were really excited to see her and were really welcoming. She simply said â€˜Iâ€™m a piece of garbage. Youâ€™re not going to have anything that fits me, and I know youâ€™re not going to be able to help me.â€™â€
White continues: â€œSure enough, when we gave her a black suit in her size and tried it on, she started sobbing, and then all of us were crying. It was just a complete transformation.â€
Itâ€™s moments like this that lead White to urge as many people as possible to volunteer for Dress for Success.
â€œI still tell people that itâ€™s the best volunteering opportunity in the city,â€ concludes White. â€œBecause itâ€™s so instantly rewarding. When you are dressing women with Dress for Success, you quickly realize that, while itâ€™s great dressing women, you really actually see how much the women give to you. They are filling a void within you that you never knew needed filling.â€
For Alexis Mack, a board member of Dress for Success Louisville, the journey to be part of the organization was a personal struggle but ultimately a triumph. A lifelong Louisvillian, Mack one day reached a crossroads at which she realized that she needed to get on the road to recovery and get sober.
Then part of a homeownership program, her caseworker suggested she visit Dress for Success to get some interview-appropriate clothes. Transformation complete, Mack soon found it was hard to leave Dress for Success. Feeling indebted, she began to volunteer and soon made her way to a position where they invited her to be part of the board.
â€œThe first time that I worked on the board, they paired us up with the women who were already on the board who would act as mentors,â€ recalls Mack. â€œOne of those women, Marcia Fackler, to this day is my best friend. I went to the board meeting the following year … and did not feel like I belonged because of the caliber of women already on the board. And every time I think about this, I want to cry.
â€œ[Marcia Fackler] told me to go back to the next meeting,â€ explains a tearful Mack. â€œShe said â€˜I want you to stay because you have a lot to offer. You have a lot of things to offer.â€™ So I went and I stayed, and I have had so many opportunities since through Dress for Success because I stayed.â€
Mack talks of getting a life coach, of meeting countless people who talk highly of her and of how she is now juggling two jobs â€“ including one at a credit union â€“ to help put her children through college.
â€œA lot of times, if you want something, you have to get something, and you get back whatever you put into it. I have 15 years of being sober this December.â€
â€œI had to relearn everything when I got sober, including how to be a mother. Marcia and some of the other women at Dress for Success who were there for me, they lifted me up and also knocked me upside my head when I was going wrong.â€
Today Mack has a daughter who is a senior in college. Sheâ€™s going to Italy for school. She has two more children in high school as well as two grown, one working at General Electric and another at Ford.
â€œYou know, these are tears of joy because of where I am today and how far I have come. I want to be an example for my children â€“ that you just donâ€™t give up.â€
In the end, though, Mack just wants people to volunteer for Dress for Success in the same way that her whole family does â€“ a way to stay humble but also give to an organization that itself has given so much.
â€œEverybody has a gift,â€ concludes Mack. â€œWhether itâ€™s sorting clothes or talking to women. Volunteering takes on so many things. My advice is that everybody has something to give and offer, but they may not realize it until they actually just do it.â€
In the early months of 2011, Monica Lun was staring down the barrel of a potential 20-year prison sentence. Trying to support a $900 per day heroin and meth habit, she had taken to committing burglaries. Her husband was already in jail, and her habit was a result of a lifetime of abuse; molested as a child, she found refuge in drugs, which in turn led her to a lifestyle where she was raped at the age of 16. With her 3-month-old son facing the prospect of being without any parents, Lun knew she needed to change her ways, even though her fate rested in the judgeâ€™s hands.
â€œI was looking at a 20-year sentence in prison,â€ recalls Lun. â€œAnd when I was in jail, I got into so much trouble in my first few months that I spent my first six months on lockdown in segregation. I was just one angry person.â€
But rather than locking her away, the judge offered Lun a chance at freedom in exchange for her giving her time to the community. After the anger of prison subsided, Lun discovered that she gravitated toward helping others.
â€œ[The judge] wanted me to give back to the community. When I was in jail, I had started helping fellow girls get their GED and mentoring them and tutoring them. The judge saw that and wanted me to continue.â€
Instead of prison sentencing, the judge sentenced Lun to a forensic diversion, which included a year of daily reporting to her probation officer as well as house arrest. But soon, Lunâ€™s probation officer recommended that she visit Dress for Success, and from there she got work in a halfway home, a first step on her way to guiding and mentoring women who were walking the path that Lun herself had walked.
â€œIt was at Dress for Success that I learned to love myself from the inside out. The beauty comes from the inside, and they taught me to turn my negatives into positives,â€ recalls Lun.
â€œToday I am not only one of the ambassadors for Dress for Success â€“ I get to speak about them as well â€“ but I also work with Youth For Christ.Â We pull kids off the street and pray with them and eat with them and mentor them and really love on them.â€
While in prison, Lun encountered Residents Encounter Christ, an organization made up of volunteers who go into prisons and spend time with prisoners, giving up their time to try to listen, advise and give compassion.
â€œThat is what saved my life in jail,â€ expresses Lun. â€œThese people came in; they give up a weekend of their life and they bring food, white socks, paper, pencils â€“ they treat you like a queen for a whole weekend. They listen to you, they cry with you, they hug you and tell you how important you are. That program is what saved me in jail and made me realize I needed to change. I didnâ€™t want my son to be alone and be angry like I was.
â€œWhen I first came to Dress for Success, they had us do a dream board â€“ we could put down whatever we wanted. I wanted to help children and women to not go down the same path that I did, get into mentoring programs and get this felony behind me.â€
Dress for Success helped me with my resume and got me to meet people. I met the mayor and his wife and had dinner with people who have given me good recommendations. Lun continues: â€œI want you to know that my dream board came true. Right now Dress for Success is helping me to apply for grants to open up my own building for kids in Floyd County.â€
Dress for SuccessÂ Boutique Coordinator
We try to make sure that our women look good in what they have on. We want to make sure you feel good in how you look when you are going in for a job interview. Your outfit needs to speak for itself before you even say anything. The outfit is empowering and says a lot about you and who you are. I tell our clients that once they speak, itâ€™s an enhancement because theyâ€™re appearance is speaking volumes.