Dress for Success Quad Cities is sitting pretty these days. Not only is it thriving, the organization focused on raising up unemployed and underemployed women has paid off the mortgage two years early on its new building after a costly flood forced it from its original Davenport location. “Completing our capital campaign has been meaningful […]
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Dress for Success Quad Cities is sitting pretty these days.
Not only is it thriving, the organization focused on raising up unemployed and underemployed women has paid off the mortgage two years early on its new building after a costly flood forced it from its original Davenport location.
“Completing our capital campaign has been meaningful to the team at Dress for Success Quad Cities on a number of levels,” said Betsy Green, president of the Dress for Success Quad Cities Board of Directors. “In 2019, we lost our home when the Mississippi River flooded. Our choice to buy our building was a way to provide stability and ensure that we could continue to consistently serve women in the Quad Cities.“
“Having that building now paid for really cements our place in the community,” she added. “And there could not be a better time than the present to be able to focus our resources on our programs.”
The agency, now located at 423 E. 32nd St. in central Davenport, already has had a significant impact on women’s lives. Executive Director Tyla Sherwin-Cole said 2,051 women have received career services, professional clothing, and one-to-one support since the Quad Cities chapter’s inception in 2011. That kind of support pays off, she said since 70% of women who utilize one-on-one career coaching services secure full-time employment.
Though Dress for Success doesn’t expect to outgrow its new quarters any time soon, Ms. Sherwin-Cole said ”We are looking for a satellite location for donations on the Illinois side to create more of a presence.”
At the same time, Ms. Green said, “The COVID-19 pandemic continues to have a strong impact on women. Many women lost their jobs, had to deal with workplace changes, or made adjustments to support their children. Now more than ever, women in the Quad Cities need the help that Dress for Success Quad Cities can provide to help them on the path to achieve financial independence.”
Ms. Sherwin-Cole said, “Only through increasing individual giving will Dress for Success Quad Cities survive over the long term. When people contribute to Dress for Success Quad Cities, they make an investment not only in the lives of the women we serve, but also in the lives of their families and our community as well.”
Iowa women, for example, earn 76 cents for every dollar an Iowa man earns, Ms. Sherwin Cole said. “This might not seem like a lot, but when we look at it on a larger scale, like annual salary, it quickly adds up,” she said. “For example, it’s the difference between a $50,000 salary and a $38,000 salary.”
Ms. Sherwin-Cole joined the organization shortly after the 2019 flood destroyed its first location in downtown Davenport. Before that she was statewide program director for the African American Museum of Iowa, located in Cedar Rapids. Though history was her forte, the new position with Dress for Success fit her like a glove.
“The mission is really what made me choose – helping women expand their capacity of making genuine choices in every part of their lives,” she said. “It’s about recognizing women’s work, paid and unpaid, as valuable, both socially and economically.”
One of the first challenges she faced was to relocate the organization from its original downtown location to temporary quarters provided by Heart of America.
“The extent of the structural damage convinced our landlord to sell the building downtown,” Ms. Sherwin-Cole said of the first location. ”Within three months we found a new home when someone from Vera French emailed then-founder and Executive Director Regina Haddock that they were moving out of their building on 32nd Street off Brady Street. Regina knew right away that it would be a safe landing spot for us where we could start to put down roots and advance our mission.”
Those new roots didn’t come cheap. The total campaign budget was $350,000, which included the $220,000 building purchase, $10,000 relocation costs, $40,000 renovation, and $80,000 for operating funds, Ms. Sherwin-Cole said.
Under the terms of the five-year loan, the final payment would have been due in 2024. Not only did the organization pay off the debt two years early, its clientele grew and its programs continued to expand.
“I must admit it was very difficult,” Ms. Sherwin-Cole said. “There were a lot of sleepless nights.
“During my first year, I lost our boutique coordinator due to a move, then my volunteer coordinator the following year due to retirement, and I would say one of the best moves I made was to hire Program Manager Lacey Skorepa. And we stayed the course: empowering women with free interview and business attire, resume review and mock interviews, career coaching, and networking and mentoring.”
The new location features a beautifully appointed area that passes for a high-end boutique, featuring fitting rooms, seating and, of course, plenty of gently worn work and leisure clothing, shoes and jewelry. It also boasts a conference room with computers for training sessions.
None of it would have been possible, the organization’s leaders said, without Quad Cities support.
The capital campaign that was required to make it happen, for example, was “definitely a community effort through staff, board of directors, volunteers, corporate donors and grant foundations,” Ms. Sherwin-Cole said.
Both the staff and the board, Ms. Green said, are “grateful to the community for their generous support of our mission and the women we serve.”
That mission is a wide-ranging one. “Everyone likes to focus on the clothes,” Ms. Skorepa said, but it’s about much more than supplying the perfect interview outfit. It’s the free career and professional development workshops, one-on-one career coaching, a HIREHer workshop and Fill-A-Bag (FAB) Friday sales.
The latter are designed to help subsidize the clothing costs for working women. Ms. Skorepa stressed that you don’t have to be a client to buy a tote for $35 and fill it with hundreds of dollars worth of high-end clothes. Casual clothing also is available for clients and for women who take advantage of the FAB events.
To support Dress for Success you can volunteer as a speaker by visiting dressforsuccessqc.org, attend one of its fundraising events, including April’s Recycle the Runway, donate gently worn clothing, or submit financial donations.
Recycle the Runway 2022 is an annual fashion fundraiser where designers compete in a “Project Runway” style show while raising money for women’s employment resources, Ms. Skorepa said. This year’s live event, Thursday, April 21, will be held at the Rhythm City Casino & Resort, Davenport. Tickets will go on sale in early March.