After early retirement in 2011, Burnetta Schlechter felt lost.
She was diagnosed as legally blind a decade earlier, and her vision continued to deteriorate over the years. The 54-year-old widow was forced to take an early buyout from the Social Security Administration’s Office of Disability Adjudication and Review in Las Vegas, where she worked as a legal clerk.
Her challenge at that point was finding a way to supplement her retirement income.
“It was difficult. I really didn’t know what I was going to do,” she said Tuesday. “I didn’t know where I was going to fit in.”
But Schlechter found her way. She’s now one of more than 2,500 local women who have managed to get back on their feet or embarked on a new career with the help of Dress for Success Southern Nevada and its various programs.
About 67 percent of the women who receive aid are ages 25 to 50, said Amy Maier, spokeswoman and member of the Dress for Success board of directors.
Eighty percent of the organization’s clients are mothers, and of that group, 49 percent are single mothers, Maier said.
The percentage of children living in poverty in Nevada has improved but remains high, according to the 2014 Nevada Kids Count Data Book. Almost 23 percent of children in the Silver State lived in poverty in 2013, slightly down from 23.4 percent in 2012.
“You are not only bringing a mother out of poverty, but you are also bringing her children out of poverty,” Maier said of the program’s value.
In Schlechter’s case, the organization gave her opportunities to start a new career after her forced early retirement.
Women are referred to Dress for Success by more than 70 local agencies, such as The Shade Tree shelter for women and children, Maier said. Dress for Success helps disadvantaged women by providing professional clothes for job interviews, career counseling and even a week’s professional wardrobe after they are hired.
Those interested in donating professional women’s clothes, shoes and accessories can drop them off at the organization’s boutique, 3400 W. Desert Inn Road, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturdays.
Schlechter’s case is just one success story.
Schlechter first arrived at Dress for Success in 2014 after she had been hired by T.J. Maxx and needed business casual clothes. She also had recently completed a travel tourism program at the College of Southern Nevada and wanted to start her own home-based travel agency.
She joined a mentoring program offered through Dress for Success. In March, she completed the six-month group mentoring program. At the end of May, she will complete the one-on-one mentoring program, which is in need of volunteers, said Eileen Jones, mentoring program coordinator.
The process of matching a mentor with those who need them is done carefully to ensure the success of the women. Twelve women completed the one-one-one program in 2014, and seven are currently enrolled.
Schlechter’s mentor, who has expertise in marketing, has helped her take off with her business. She stopped working at T.J. Maxx in February to focus full-time on her business, Explore Travel with goburnetta.com. She has booked trips for two clients thus far.
“There is hope,” she said. “They helped a lot. I’m just happy where I’m at now.”
Contact Yesenia Amaro at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0440. Find her on Twitter: @YeseniaAmaro.