Thursday, January 30, 2014

Party post-Super Bowl with former NFL players

Gentlemen, (and female football fans) you’re about to find yourselves in a win-win situation.

What if I told you that this Sunday doesn’t have to be the end of football season? Suppose instead there’s a post-Super Bowl party featuring drinks and discussion with former NFL players, who will break down the biggest plays from Sunday’s game?

Oh, and P.S., you’ll simultaneously be helping area women break the cycle of poverty.

You’re all in, right?

Next Wednesday, Dress for Success Charlotte and The Charlotte Former Player Foundation will host their first “Football Finale” event at Charlotte City Club. Cocktails start at 5:30 p.m. and the program will start at 6:30.

What exactly is Dress for Success Charlotte? It’s the local affiliate of an international nonprofit that helps disadvantaged women achieve financial independence – by providing professional attire, career development resources and more – all at no cost.

The Dress for Success Charlotte location is a former hardwood floor showroom that didn't survive the recession, Barr O'Connor said. The interior design was done pro bono and utilized donations such as the dressing room curtains.
Kerry Barr O’Connor, executive director with Dress for Success Charlotte, said at least a dozen players (maybe as many as 20) will attend Wednesday’s party and give first-hand perspective on the game, be available for autographs, one-on-one networking and more.

Through Friday, tickets to the party are $40. After that, the price goes to $50. Either way, all proceeds go toward helping local women be successful in the workforce.

“A lot of these (NFL alum) get it, they were raised by single moms,” Barr O’Connor said. “They’re teddy bears off the field who want to open a door for women in the community.”

I toured the Dress for Success Charlotte boutique off Clanton Road this week and was surprised and impressed with what I learned about the organization.

Bobbi Brown, founder and CEO of the internationally-known cosmetics brand, is a board member of Dress for Success. The Charlotte location features a Bobbi Brown counter, part of the no-cost "suiting" each client receives.

Through community donations, volunteer help and agency partnerships, Dress for Success provides women with little to no income at least two interview-appropriate outfits for free. Job training resources, professional and leadership development are also available at no cost.

“We say women leave here four inches taller than when they walked in, and it has nothing to do with the shoes we give them” Barr O’Connor said, adding the right outfit helps to build a woman’s confidence.

Yeah. Clothes can do that.

Dress for Success Charlotte is one of 130 affiliates worldwide and works with more than 40 referral partners locally. Every affiliate is different, Barr O'Connor said, but the client suiting program is the one thing they all have in common.

Once she’s landed the job, Barr O’Connor said, Dress for Success tries to make sure each client has up to five work-ready outfits when inventory allows.

Featuring six private dressing rooms, Dress for Success Charlotte helps to build client confidence at their boutique with interview-appropriate clothing. Last year, about 500 volunteers spent roughly 5,000 hours acting as personal style consultants, providing professional development, helping to process donations and more, Barr O'Connor said. "We passionately believe everybody has something to give, however they want to plug-in."

1) I think I found the solution on where to donate clothing in the future and

2) Dress for Success Charlotte has an incredible inventory: Suits, separates, dresses, bags, accessories, shoes, etc. in a huge range of sizes.

And it’s not like these items are visibly worn castoffs that are outdated.

Donations are taken by appointment only, Barr O’Connor said, and their inventory was impressive with its sizes, styles and brand representation.

While I was at the boutique, waiting in a plastic bin to be processed were a brand-new pair of Manolo Blahniks, still in the box. They were in good company with a pair of Salvatore Ferragamos, Tracy Reese and the like.

You’ll be happy to hear that three times a year Dress for Success Charlotte hosts an “inventory reduction” event and the next one is March 8.

During the first two days of the sale, clients get first dibs, as their need for professional clothing is greatest. “We try to do inventory reduction at the first part of the month so clients can extend their wardrobe,” Barr O’Connor said.

But the third and final day is open to the public and Barr O’Connor said there are “some fabulous deals.”

Entire outfits (shoes, slacks or skirt, shirt and jacket) for $20; shoes (such as the pair of Stuart Weitzmans that Bar O'Connor found), blazers, purses and slacks for $5; two scarves for $1 and more. All proceeds go back into the program.

Other services provided by Dress for Success Charlotte include job preparedness, such as having an email account set up, understanding social media and resume building, Barr O'Connor said. "Sometimes just getting them set up with an email (account) could be the difference between getting a job or not. Who's taking paper applications anymore," she said. "That one hour can change the direction of somebody's life."

By the numbers

In 2012, Dress for Success Charlotte:

  • had 950 women referred to the organization locally, and 842 used at least one of the career transformation services.
  • On average, clients are 46 or older, 80 percent of those clients are single heads of households, Barr O'Connor said, and 10 percent are grandparents who find themselves in a parenting role.
  • Of those who participate in the professional women's group - which offers free membership, financial literacy, leadership training and more - 75 percent of participants retain employment.