Dress for Success goes mobile to expand client reach during the pandemic

Donna Marbury
Angel Harris, executive director, Dress for Success

The Dress for Success Columbus mobile career center is the newest way the organization is reaching women and girls, meeting them where they are in Central Ohio communities.

One of the first things they will notice is Tasha Jones' bright, smiling face. A four-year volunteer, Jones is prominently displayed on the tour-bus sized career center that launched in August 2020. “The first time I saw it, it knocked me off my feet,” she says. “They honored me by putting my face on the mobile unit, but they don’t realize how much they’ve changed my life.”

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Four years ago, Jones came to Dress for Success as a new college graduate. Going in to update her wardrobe for a new job, she realized the organization had more to offer than work clothes. “Volunteering for DFS gave me the confidence to show my face and be proud that people knew my name,” Jones says.

The mobile career center offers computer access and a suit boutique. Popping up outside of YWCA locations, family shelters and shopping centers, the goal is to reach 1,000 women in the next 12 months.

“The mobile unit is a game changer,” Jones says. “We can bring the career center and boutique services to women who don’t have the transportation or just can’t get away.”

In its 14th year, this year Dress for Success is exceeding $1 million in annual revenue for the first time. The accomplishment comes as financial insecurity skyrockets amid the Covid-19 pandemic, increasing demand for the organization’s services.

At its Short North location, suiting has been replaced by Empowerment2Go boxes filled with clothing and accessories. Workforce development programs went virtual.

More than 1,200 women and girls have been served by the organization in 2020, says Angel Harris, executive director since 2018 after nearly two decades at United Way.

“We have the support of our board of directors, who decided to take a bold step to recommit our efforts to our community and to our women,” Harris says. “Suiting will always be our focus, but workforce development programs will make sure women feel confident.”

Two fundraising events evolved in 2020. Beyond the Suit, held in October, offered an in-person Easton drive-in experience and a live Zoom. Dine Drink Dress, a hybrid virtual and in-person happy hour held in August, raised $77,000 with 460 ticketed attendees.

“The pandemic has and continues to impact all of us. The parallel outcome is the greater need for services at every level,” says Lucy Soares-Demelo, a board member and 10-year volunteer. “We pivoted to relook at all our programs.”

The organization added two programs to its workforce development offerings—a program for teens called Boss Girl, sponsored by CoverMyMeds and Franklin County Department of Job and Family Services; and Interviewing for Success, in partnership with Lane Bryant and the Ohio Department of Jobs and Family Services.

Harris says 260 women are a part of the Interviewing for Success program, which offers one-on-one career coaching with 40 mentors from corporations including Nationwide, L Brands, Bob Evans and WesBanco.

Continuing to think “beyond the suit,” Dress for Success streamed Turning Mental Health into Everyday Conversations in October via Facebook Live featuring Achea Redd, mental health advocate.

Donna Marbury is a freelance writer.

Angel Harris

Dress for Success Columbus

1204 N. High St., Columbus 43201

Dress for Success Columbus

Mission: To empower women to achieve economic independence by providing a network of support, professional attire and career tools.

Employees: Seven full-time staff, three part-time staff and an average of 40 volunteers. 

Revenue: $1.1 million