Story by Larissa Wurm
Photo courtesy of Dress for Success
Dress for Success (DFS) is a non-profit that works to empower women and encourage them to be successful in their personal and professional lives. Jill Niswander and Jody White teamed up to make a Des Moines affiliate of the worldwide organization, Dress for Success Des Moines (DFS DSM).
“I got excited about Dress for Success because I’m passionate about women’s advocacy,” Jill Niswander, the co-founder and co-director of DFS DSM, said. “Worldwide introduced me to Jody and she and I teamed up to bring Dress for Success to Des Moines. We were very blessed to meet six other fabulous ladies along this journey who support our mission of helping disadvantaged women achieve economic independence.”
Clients of Dress for Success are referred to by other non-profit agencies in the area when they have scheduled an interview. The first appointment is dedicated to finding them a business suit for that interview. Once the client has gotten her job, she goes back to DFS to get up to one week’s worth of “business-appropriate separates.”
Because DFS is completely volunteer and donation driven, days can be very busy for everyone involved.
“A day at the boutique starts with opening the doors and preparing for scheduled suitings that day,” Niswander said. “We have to pull clothes and accessories to meet the needs of the women we’re serving that day, making sure we’re prepared to make her visit to us successful and productive.”
Niswander spends a lot of time helping the women and volunteers during appointments, but also has a number of other tasks to do each day.
“I think a lot of people when they hear ‘non-profit,’ they think ‘non-expense,’ and that couldn’t be further from the truth,” Niswander said. “We have all the expenses of a for-profit organization, but we rely on grants and donations to cover them. My typical day consists of flurries of emails, phone calls, juggling meetings and kids and a lot of sleepless nights writing grants or classroom material for our Going Places Network.”
The Going Places Network is a program funded by a grant from the Walmart Foundation that helps women gain the job skills and confidence they need to be successful. This is accomplished by weekly sessions that include training, networking, and one-on-one coaching.
Courtney Howell, a senior politics and sociology major, has worked with DFS DSM since fall of 2011. She is the Service-Learning Ambassador, through the Service Learning Program at Drake, and works during the week on various projects, including their upcoming Passion for Fashion event.
“Passion for Fashion is our annual signature fundraiser of the year,” Niswander said. “Every spring we bring together local retailer and the Des Moines community for a night of fashion, drinks, desserts and fundraising for a good cause.”
“The fashion show is our only large-scale fundraiser that we put on,” Howell said. “When we can help women obtain jobs through their own merit, those women are able to better provide for their families. All we have to do is provide the proper attire, and support and women excel at their interviews and jobs.”
The money raised is used to pay the operating expenses, like rent and utilities, non-profits have difficulty paying and also to help fund career development programs.
“Dress for Success is a cause that works at the root of social issues,” Howell said. “We are working to break the ‘Catch 22’ of women not being able to get jobs because they do not have clothing, but not being able to buy clothing because they do not have a job, and therefore money.”
“People should get involved because it’s a fun and fantastic way to support women in their very own community,” Niswander said.
Passion for Fashion is May 4 in Olmsted Center, 5-7 p.m. Tickets are $20 and can be bought at www.dressforsuccess.com/desmoines or at the door.
If anyone is interested in volunteering and helping with Passion for Fashion, contact Courtney Howell at firstname.lastname@example.org.