When Yamina Crosland lost her job as a case manager at Catholic Charities in 2006, her son was still a newborn. With nowhere to turn for help, Crosland went on welfare. “It’s something I never thought I’d have to do, but I was so scared of not being able to pay bills,” she says.
Crosland filled out job applications by the dozens and eventually landed an interview with the State of New Jersey for a driving position. That’s when her welfare program referred her to Dress for Success Mercer County, one of 130 affiliates in 15 countries around the world that provides a network of support and career development tools to disadvantaged women. While the program offers a host of services, including job preparation, resume-writing and interviewing skills, and work/life balance training, Dress for Success is best known for its professional wardrobe assistance. “I was amazed at the kinds of name-brand professional suits they had,” Crosland says. “They started me off with three suits to go on the interview. Needless to say I got the job.”
Although women first experience Dress for Success as a way to access professional attire, the program is about much more than that, says Lorrie Klaric, executive director of Dress for Success Mercer County. “We provide practical career development tools in addition to the attire,” she says. “Every woman has a chance to meet with a career counselor in our Career Center, which was launched in 2011. It’s become the cornerstone of our program.”
Another cornerstone of the program—the Professional Women Group—was the lynchpin for Crosland. “I found it really fulfilling, and I was surprised at the diversity of the group, including professional women who had degrees and jobs. It was during the Recession, and we were all in the same boat,” she says. “It was incredibly encouraging to be in this group of women—it was like a support group.
“They gave us a lot of belief in ourselves and made us feel like we could accomplish anything.”
The group met on a monthly basis to hear speakers and participate in workshops on topics such as the power of networking, selling your skills in an interview, nutrition, self-esteem—even dealing with depression.
For Crosland, it began to sink in, and after about a year and a half she applied for a position as a case manager for the New Jersey Supreme Court, which she landed. Today, Crosland’s son in 7 years old, and she’s in the process of applying to Rutgers and Rider, possibly for business administration.
Klaric says Crosland is just one example of the kind of transformation she sees at Dress for Success on a regular basis. “When a client comes through our doors, they are immediately surrounded by women who want to see them succeed. It gives them confidence, and they present themselves differently at the end. Their heads are held higher, and it’s almost as if they’ve been encouraged to do things they didn’t think they were capable of doing.”