With shuttle, Dress for Success suited for the road

Community Outreach Coordinator Janine Estes shows off business attire from the Women’s Resource Agency mobile career center, which takes business clothing to women in outlying areas.

For years, the personal shoppers at the Women’s Resource Agency heard stories of women in need of interview suits but had no transportation to the agency’s Dress for Success boutique in The Citadel mall.

So, the agency converted a shuttle bus into a dressing room on wheels and took their designer suits on the road.

Now, they’re suiting up women in communities like Calhan, Fountain and Cripple Creek.

“We don’t want the lack of a car or access to the bus to be the first barrier to their success,” said Beth Roalstad, Women’s Resource Agency executive director.

This fall, the agency won a $50,000 grant from the Wal-Mart Foundation to take its Dress for Success program to outlying areas of Colorado Springs.

Dress for Success aims to solve the dilemma of which comes first, the suit or the job.

Without a job, a woman cannot afford a suit and without a nice suit, she might not land the job. At Dress for Success, suits are donated and free to the agency’s clients.

“We have personal shoppers and image coaches who work with women to find the right suit,” Roalstad said.

Modeled after other mobile Dress for Success programs, the Colorado Springs Mobile Career Center hit the road in September with suits, shoes, handbags and other accessories that equip women to walk into a job interview and own it.

A good interview suit, Roalstad said, can make all the difference.

Twenty-five percent of the women who get outfitted with an interview suit and receive some job-hunt coaching through the agency land a job within 90 days, she said. About a dozen women a week get suits from the agency.

“Since 2008, individuals seeking services has gone across the spectrum,” Roalstad said. “It’s not just a person transitioning from welfare to work; it’s a career professional that was laid off for the first time and needs to write a resume and develop the language of a job seeker.”

In 2012, the Women’s Resource Agency will celebrate 40 years in business. The agency, a nonprofit organization with a $425,000 annual operating budget, is focused on helping women achieve economic independence through personal coaching and job training programs. The agency is run with a staff of eight and a cadre of 125 volunteers. All programs, including the suits, are free.

This summer an anonymous donor provided the agency with eight new desk top computers for resume development, Microsoft certification courses and online job-hunting, said Aubrey Terry, Women’s Resource Agency director of programs. Each week, 25 to 30 women use that career center to find jobs.

Women who complete the agency’s six-week “Going Places” job training workshop have an 80 percent employment rate, Terry said. They are landing jobs from entry level positions to retail managers to teachers, she said.

“We have women who are in their 50s who are going back to work,” Terry said. “We give them personal support — a

holistic approach.”

Providing interview suits to women is the No. 1 mission of Dress for Success, an international nonprofit agency that launched in 1997. The Colorado Springs Women’s Resource Agency became an affiliate of Dress for Success in 2004.

Since then, it’s been a hit and there has been no shortage of gently used or new suits and accessories donated to the program, Roalstad said.

“We have so much support from this community,” she said. “We get a lot of great clothing.”

In 2007, the agency opened a boutique in The Citadel mall and this summer expanded into a 5,000-square-foot location in the mall. There are racks of suits — some with big designer names — shelves of shoes, handbags, jewelry and scarves and volunteer personal shoppers to assist.

“We have everything they need to make a polished outfit,” Roalstad said.

For women in Cripple Creek getting to those clothes has been the problem, said Ted Borden, executive director of Aspen Mine Center, which houses two dozen service organizations.

“Transportation has been a huge issue in Teller County, there is no public transit,” he said. “The challenge for these folks to get down to Colorado Springs is no easy task.”

The Aspen Mine Center has a clothes closet, he said, but often it doesn’t have the professional business attire needed for a job interview.

“For (Women’s Resource Agency) to come up and make those clothes available up here is a really important,” Borden said.

The Mobile Career Center shuttle bus is out on the road once a week for now, but Roalstad is hoping that as word gets out, the dressing room on wheels will be out five days a week.

“We have a handful of volunteers ready to make anyone look fantastic,” Roalstad said.