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Nonprofit program helps outfit women for job success

There’s only one chance to make a first impression. It’s critical when interviewing for a job.

Since 1996, Dress for Success has been helping women in crisis centers, outfitting them with a look that tells the interviewer, "I’m a professional." It s roughly 115 affiliates worldwide have helped more than 500,000 women.

Now, Las Vegas has a chapter .

"Success is not just getting a job, it’s building a career," said Paige Candee, founder of the Southern Nevada affiliate of Dress for Success.

Candee said she learned there was not an affiliate in Las Vegas when she wanted to donate career clothes. So she set about getting one here.

She began the process in December 2009. It was granted 501 (c)(3) status in May 2010 and was given office space that October at 3400 W. Desert Inn Road, Suite 25.

Dress f or Success Southern Nevada assisted its first client on Dec. 31, 2010. The conference room has a picture of the woman in a vibrant pant suit, beaming at the camera.

"She rode three buses to get here," said Alisia Pulella, vice chairwoman . "She left with three shopping bags full of things."

Since then, it has helped 20 women. The goal is 50 for 2011.

Dress for Success serves job-ready women by referral only from non profit organizations such as HELP of Southern Nevada, t he Shade Tree, the Jewish Family Services Agency and Hero School.

"It’s all about empowering women," said Erica Savoy, image consultant.

Women in transition who have an interview set up go to the center for a complete outfit, including shoes, handbags and jewelry. They also receive makeup and learn how best to apply it. Everything is color-coordinated and chosen to work with the woman’s skin tone.

"They get to feel like a princess for a day," said Pulella .

Kim Blakeney was referred to the Dress f or Success offices and outfitted with a pant suit.

"It looked like it was made for me," she said, adding the experience was a bonding one, "like sorority sisters."

The center also has a computer room for printing a professional-looking resume.

Those who ace the interview and get the job, like Blakeney did, come back for a second fitting. That’s when they receive additional outfits suitable for work.

Sylvia Joiner-Greene, job development program manager for t he Shade Tree, said the women hold themselves differently after their makeover.

"It’s amazing how it a ffects them," she said. "We feel our best when we are looking good."

Some of the clothing is new, donated by companies such as Brighton Collections, which recently sent more than 350 purses, and Dressbarn , whose SOS (Send One Suit) effort resulted in 15 boxes arriving at the center’s intake department.

Individuals also donate barely used items. One woman sent six pairs of the same high heels in the same color.

"I thought, ‘Wow, this woman is not so much about fashion but about wearing the right thing for the job,’ " Pulella said.

The fun part is choosing colors and styles and trying them on in one of two changing room bays. The transformation can be dramatic.

Savoy told of a client who’d had a hard life and whose self-esteem was at rock bottom. Early in the visit, the woman was told to write down three traits of someone she admired. Once she was dressed and her face was made up, she stood before the full -length mirror. The woman was told her list of admirable traits were things she actually liked about herself.

"Sometimes people don’t realize how special they are," Savoy said.

The Las Vegas chapter needs business suits that have been dry cleaned and still are in the bag. It also needs volunteers. For more information, call 684-6412 or visit dressforsuccess.org/southernnevada.

Contact Summerlin and Summerlin South View reporter Jan Hogan at jhogan@viewnews.com or 387-2949.

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