BELLE GLADE — Since opening its doors in 2010 as one of 145 Dress for Success affiliates globally, the organization’s local chapter has always looked westward, knowing the population there is inordinately underserved. Now, Dress for Success Palm Beaches (DFSPB) is bringing its free-of-charge services to Belle Glade and neighboring communities with the opening of a satellite location at 1089 Main Street.
Those services, all dedicated to empowering women to be economically independent, will include the agency’s signature “suiting” program. It initially provides appropriate head-to-toe attire for a woman to wear to her job interview and then ultimately provides a full week’s wardrobe if she gets the job. But beyond the clothing, DFSPB offers job readiness and professional development coaching so that the client is further prepared for the interview and the eventual dynamics of a workplace. All told, she undergoes an uplifting transformation that boosts self-confidence, self-esteem, and her sense of empowerment.
“We’ve had our eye on adding our services to The Glades for several years, and it’s finally happening,” said Mary Hart, executive director of DFSPB. Appointments for clients will be scheduled in the new space beginning the week of May 3.
Providing the impetus for the move, she explained, was the location itself. “The Belle Glade office of CareerSource, which is one of our partner agencies and a steady source of client referrals, alerted us to the availability of the space adjacent to them, and so we seized the opportunity to finally make this move. Additionally, we were encouraged by County Commissioner Melissa McKinlay, and also Shereena Coleman and other leadership at the Palm Beach County Business Development Board who are witnesses to the growing commerce that The Glades, with nearby towns such as Loxahatchee, Pahokee, South Bay and Westlake, are experiencing. It helped, too, that we’re coming off of a recent fundraising campaign that included a flash sale of the clothing donated to us that’s not workplace appropriate for our clients. This pop-up event alone added $15,000 to help defray some of the Belle Glade costs.”
Coleman, who is a Business Development Board vice president, said, “The Glades is experiencing an incredible period of economic growth and prosperity, and the kind of support that Dress for Success offers, enhancing the region’s workforce and talent pipeline, is a true necessity. We’re pleased to support its satellite location in Belle Glade.”
While, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, more than 41 percent of Belle Glade’s population live below the poverty line and its unemployment rate typically is five to seven times higher than that of the county’s, job opportunities gradually are emerging as new businesses are setting up shop there. Earlier this year, it was announced that a 140,000-square-foot manufacturing facility is slated to be built in Belle Glade, bringing 200-plus of its own job opportunities in addition to those of ancillary support businesses that are likely to take root.
“It’s this kind of development that is signaling to us the added need for DFSPB in that part of the county,” said Hart, who acknowledged her organization, like others, faced some daunting challenges over the past year from COVID-19, but didn’t let this stand in the way of expansion.
“We’ve reinvented how we deliver our job readiness programs so that they are virtual, but we have continued the in-person appointments with clients so that they can shop for their interview outfits and experience the personal styling moment with one of our fashion-savvy volunteers. Admittedly, the need was less at the start of the pandemic when business came to a standstill and local industry was hemorrhaging jobs. But lately, there’s been a progressive turnaround, and since June we’ve assisted more than 100 women from our base of operations in Palm Springs,” said Hart.
According to Hart, it’s rare that a Dress for Success chapter takes on the opening of a satellite location. Yet, the Palm Beaches chapter is defying convention and opening one during a global pandemic, no less. “There are only a handful of affiliates that have a branch location, and some have answered the need for expanded outreach by creating mobile units that feature RVs converted to retail on wheels. But our Board of Directors decided that this spin-off location was the most sensible solution. And if not now, when?”
Now is the right time, said CareerSource’s associate vice president of business services, Charles Duval. “This is a time when job seekers need these services the most. Professional attire helps the candidate stand out in making a positive impression in the job interview. So, we are very pleased to partner with Dress for Success and welcome them as our new neighbor.” Hart, too, sees the adjacency to CareerSource as a plus, and an opportunity for even further collaboration between the two agencies on delivery of job readiness programs.
Much like DFSPB’s Palm Springs space, the Belle Glade interior has the appearance of an exclusive store, with aisles filled with racks of gently worn clothing, display areas designated for shoes, handbags and accessories, and a private dressing room. The “boutique” boasts 1,000 square feet, and there is ample parking plus accessibility via a major bus route along Main Street. Clients are only accepted upon referral from a social service case worker, and appointments in advance are required. Rigorous COVID-safe practices recommended by CDC for retail operations are being enforced. The merchandise at Belle Glade comes from individual and business donations, and Hart explained that those donations are accepted only at the organization’s main Palm Springs site and only by appointment.
To learn more about the new Belle Glade “boutique,” call 561-249-3898. Visit https://www.dressforsuccesspb.org/ for further information about the organization.
About Dress for Success
Dress for Success is an international not-for-profit organization that empowers women to achieve economic independence by providing a network of support, professional attire and the development tools to help women thrive in work and in life. Since starting operations in 1997, Dress for Success has 145 offices in 25 countries. To date, Dress for Success has helped more than 1 million women work toward self-sufficiency. The local affiliate Dress for Success Palm Beaches opened its doors in April, 2010, to serve a community where the poverty rate for women is 20.9%, and in that time has assisted nearly 6,000 women through job readiness courses and its defining wardrobing program.