That Cinderella moment: A disadvantaged woman steps back from the mirror, adorned in a new-to-her suit chosen for her by a personal shopper, and is filled with confidence for the future.
That confidence will hopefully carry her through an interview and land her a job.
Being a part of that transformation over and over for women who will come to Dress for Success Augusta is what Debbie Walker has dreamed of since she learned of the national organization in 1999.
The women may be divorcees, escaping from an abusive marriage, or economically disadvantaged.
Once, Walker was one of those women.
She dreamed of becoming like her childhood idol, Mary Tyler Moore, but college was not discussed much at home when she was young, she said.
But at the age of 27, divorced with two children, Walker got laid off and didn’t know where to turn.
Through the Displaced Home-makers Program at the Department of Labor, she began working for an associate’s degree. Thanks to encouragement from a host of people along the way, she continued school until she received her master’s degree in educational psychology.
Now she wants to reach back and give other women like her a hand up through Dress for Success Augusta.
“The women that are going to be served represent who I was at one time,” she said.
Walker has a clear vision for the program. It is in keeping with that of the international parent company, of which the Augusta branch is 128th – and newest – affiliate. Women will be referred by a partner non-profit organization after she has completed a job-training program. Once the woman has a job interview, she will be sent to Dress for Success Augusta.
She will sip tea or coffee when she arrives while her personal shopper, who will be a volunteer, will bring out items already picked out for her to try on.
She will have her hair and makeup done, and will be properly accessorized.
Once she has been outfitted, a career specialist will help her prepare for her interview.
“Once they get the job, they’ll come back and we’ll give them one week’s worth of clothes,” Walker said. “And if they keep the job, they’ll become part of our professional women’s group.”
Walker’s mission extends beyond getting the job.
“It is to help them get in there, stay in there, and help them to advance,” she said.
Dress for Success Augusta will include networking, a career center, support and financial literacy programs.
While Walker has completed the fundamental steps involved in setting up the nonprofit, such as getting approval from the parent company Dress for Success, getting a business license, applying for the 501(c)3 status and selecting a start-up committee, there is still work to be done before she can serve her first client.
She needs space to set up the boutique, and is hoping one will be donated. She said she can’t begin to take in donations of business attire until she has a place to put it.
“I’ve had several women in the community who have said, ‘I’m ready to clean my closets,’ or ‘I’m no longer a professional. I have excellent garments ... waiting for someone,’” she said. “I want someplace where it’s secure, where the clothes are not going to get damaged.”
To learn more about Dress for Success Augusta, visit dress for success.org, call Debbie Walker at (706) 550-5008, or e-mail email@example.com.