Ready to wear

Dress for Success Tulsa marks 15 years helping women find and keep jobs.



Ronda Adkisson, executive director of Dress for Success Tulsa, fits Amelia, one of the organization’s clients, at Dress for Success Tulsa’s new headquarters near East 31st Street and South Harvard Avenue. The nonprofit is celebrating its 15th year helping women find and retain employment.

Valerie Grant

Wendelene Rios, 32, has marketable work experience and two degrees from Oklahoma State University. 

But when she evaluated her skills, her resumé and the Tulsa job market earlier this year, she says she felt anxious and underprepared in the most basic ways. 

“I didn’t have anything to wear to job interviews that I felt confident in,” she remembers. “I called Dress for Success because I had donated clothes there in the past.”

Rios was the first woman to be “suited” at Dress for Success Tulsa’s new headquarters near East 31st Street and South Harvard Avenue. The 5,000-square-foot facility houses a boutique storefront, a career center with computers for client use and administrative offices. 

When she arrived at her suiting appointment, “they were still unpacking boxes, and everything was a mess,” Rios says, “but the stylists took the time to make me feel really special.” 

After some questions about her style and the type of job she was interviewing for, volunteers chose a feminine heather gray suit with a crimson sleeveless sweater and floral scarf. 

“I was outside of my comfort zone for sure,” Rios says, but when she looked in the mirror, she began to see herself in a new light. 

“A lot of our clients are like Wendelene,” says Ronda Adkisson, executive director of Dress for Success Tulsa. “According to a 2013 census study, 40.4 percent of women in the United States are the sole or primary source of income for households where children are under the age of 18. 

“Over 70 percent of our clients are single mothers. Fifty percent of our women are between 30 and 50 years of age, a number of them with college degrees and in transition. We are here to help them gain clarity and redirect.”

In 2016, Dress for Success Tulsa celebrates its 15th year. Under Adkisson’s leadership, the program has grown to serve more than 1,100 women per year. The agency also began supplementing its traditional suiting program by offering courses aimed at helping women find and keep jobs.

Rios participated in a seven-week course called the “Going Places Network” that features guest lectures on topics related to job readiness. 

“At the end of the course,” Adkisson explains, “our goal is to have them employed.” 

Mock interviews, resumé writing, personal styling and networking through social media are all subjects of focus.

Rios, who is employed but still looking for a more long-term position using her skills and degrees, says the class has helped her feel less vulnerable in the job market. 

“It has been empowering,” she says. “I’ve learned a lot, and it feels like we are in this together.”

After clients find employment, they are invited to participate in the Professional Women’s Group, where guest speakers focus on job retention and related skills.

Adkisson, who came to Dress for Success Tulsa after her own mid-career transition, believes that “a job can change a life. When you give a woman a job, it creates opportunities in her life and has an impact on our city.”

 

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