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Dress for Success helps veterans get back to civilian life

November 12, 2018

Dress for Success Houston, an organization dedicating to serving women in the Houston area, held a Veterans Service Day event on Tuesday, Nov. 7

According to dfshouston.org, the mission of Dress for Success Houston is to empower women to achieve economic independence by providing a network of support, professional attire and development tools to help women thrive in work and life. Dress for Success has just recently celebrated its 20th anniversary.

The Veteran Service Day event, which was sponsored by Palais Royal, a part of Stage Stores, including getting fitted for professional attire, participating in an interview preparation course called “First Impressions,” and then the chance to attend a career fair.

“The veteran’s program was launched in 2014, with challenges as a civilian,” Nancy Levicki, cofounder and president of Dress for Success said.

Levicki remembers reading an article about the challenges that women veteran’s have. The article said that veteran men stay connected with their friends, and have a support system, but women are often coming back from the military alone.

“They suffer that isolation. We wanted to build a network of support among female veterans in Houston,” Levicki said. “Yes it is about the suits, yes it is about the resume, it is about finding a job, but it is mostly about the networking.”

“In the beginning it was just me — grass roots, on the ground. We are now partnered with 24 Veterans Service Organizations, and as an agency we are partnered with over 200 Houston area nonprofits,” Alesha Walker, Dress for Success veteran’s outreach manager, and a U.S. Marine Corps Staff Sergeant said.

Walker continued, “A lot of those agencies that we partnered with then helped me… We all enter the military so young, when we are 18, 19, so when we get out, we don’t know who we are going to be. Dress for Success creates a safe space for us.”

Walker also noted that having a job in the military translate into the civilian sector is difficult, and can lead to unemployment for long stretches of time.

“I did military pay. We use a different system than what civilians use. When I got out, I could not go to a company and be hired. Transitioning is hard,” Walker said. “A lot of us go back to school with the GI Bill, but then we have a gap in our employment history.”

“Now we see the veterans being successful — landing jobs, building careers. They have become voices,” Levicki said.

Levicki notes that while the organization’s name is Dress for Success, it is so much more than the outfit, which is why they use the hashtag #BeyondtheSuit.

“It starts with the suit. It’s not necessarily the value of the suit, but the value of how it makes them feel,” Levicki said.

Women who have a job interview lined up are referred to Dress for Success, where they can get fitted for a suit. Once they land the job, they can get more outfits, and can add on to their wardrobe as they attend career development classes.

Dress for Success accepts professional attire donations Monday through Friday from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. and first and second Saturdays of the month 9:30 to 2 p.m. Dress for Success is located at 3310 Eastside St, Houston.

“They way that it works is knowing somebody, that knows somebody,” Walker told the group of women veterans, speaking about the difficulties of finding a job. “Dress for Success Houston — we are your somebody to know.”

Veteran testimonials on the Dress for Success website include Kimberly, a U.S. Army veteran, who now works in early childhood development.

“I learned about Dress for Success Houston at a veteran’s event, and my life hasn’t been the same since. After meeting fellow veterans, engaging with the staff and the incredible volunteers, I was able to find the woman I once was. I started to see my future again,” Kimberly said.

Dress for Success hopes to expand next year with health and well-being related events.

“The support we have received from Palais Royal, at the level they have committed, has truly propelled this program into the expansion mode that we would have not been able to do,” Levicki said.

As a sponsor of the event, Palais Royal was one of the companies present at the career fair, including representatives from University of Houston, Geico and MD Anderson Cancer Center.

“The career fair was a great opportunity for employers to form relationships and network with veterans. We have previously hired associates from the DFS Veterans Career fair and this year won’t be any different,” Ashley Reed, human resources business partner of Stage Stores said.

“Palais Royal was proud to be a recruiter. One of the five core values at Palais Royal is Respect for Another which means embracing diversity and inclusion as well as supporting team member excellence. Veterans typically embody this core value,” Bria Lundy, PR Director of Stage Stores said.

Every women that attended the event was given a $25 Palais Royal gift card and a gift bag, to help further their wardrobe.

For more information, visit https://dfshouston.org.

rebecca.hazen@chron.com

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