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The #StoryofaSuit Continues to Be Told

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A Message from Sheri K. Cole, Executive Director of Career Wardrobe.

Every day, Career Wardrobe urges its clients to make themselves vulnerable by finding confidence in who they are and taking a risk. We tell them that the only way to get somewhere is to put yourself out there and take that first step.

We have to admit, it was a little daunting to be selected as one of the final 74 programs chosen to compete for the grand prize in the JobRaising Challenge. We found ourselves competing with much larger organizations that boast large marketing budgets, national brand recognition, and hundreds of employees that can tap into thousands of supporters nationwide. On the day we were notified that we had been selected to participate, our small staff gathered in the conference room (doubling as the staff kitchen and supply room) and thought... there is no way we're going to win.

Then we imagined our clients, sitting in a room waiting for an interview, looking at the other candidates and considered something: what if they said 'there is no way I'm going to win'?

Daunting is no excuse. Being scared or overwhelmed is not a reason not to try.

We have got our foot in the door along with 74 others, so let's see what we can build out of this opportunity. How can our local, Philadelphia-based grassroots organization make the very best out of this exciting challenge, and push ourselves a little further than we thought was possible? We have found that wonderful things happen when you put yourself out there -- just like we tell our clients!

We asked a simple question: tell us your story of a suit. It's a question we ask our clients all the time and now we were asking ourselves and our supporters. What does that simple act of putting on a business suit do for you? How many people can we get to share their #StoryofaSuit with the world? We heard from board members, staff, clients, donors, supporters, Facebook friends, Tweets from all over the world doing just that. Check out a sampling of these stories:

I grew up working in my father's hardware store, so dressing nicely was not part of the routine. More known for wearing blue jeans and Frye boots, when interview time approached a friend sent me to Jacobson's, a full service department store. The wonderful clerk took my measurements, asked about my goals and selected the most perfect blue suit. When I walked into class wearing my new armor, I received a standing ovation. My classmates knew I had the smarts, but I had never owned it by "looking the part" -- a Career Wardrobe Facebook fan

28 years ago, I had a suede olive green biz jacket on layaway for 6 months, worth every $, I felt gr8 -- @EmmeNation, Supermodel

A suit demands #respect and gives a woman the confidence she needs to succeed in the workplace #storyofasuit -- @WOMENSWAY, a leader in providing funding, advocacy and education on behalf of women in the Greater Philadelphia region

In City Council wearing suit=professionalism, pride in work product & respect for citizens who elected us.#storyofasuit -- @CouncilwomanBRB, Blondell Reynolds Brown, Philadelphia City Council

We were excited and surprised when we met our first goal of 100 donors. So we challenged our staff to come up with creative ideas to continue spreading the word. The ideas we came up with (including my personal favorite of auctioning off a lunch with me while I was away on vacation!) are ideas we can take into other areas of our marketing, growing our organization beyond the March 1st JobRaising deadline. JobRaising has challenged us to push the boundaries of what we thought our organization was capable of doing, and we will use that push to invite everyone to stay involved, keep talking, and keep sharing.

In short, Career Wardrobe's #StoryofaSuit doesn't end here. And with your support our clients' successes don't end here either.

Help Career Wardrobe Write One More #StoryofaSuit

Every dollar raised in the #JobRaising challenge is another dollar that helps one more woman take the first step down her road to independence. Just as the simple act of putting on a suit leads to so much more, this challenge has led to more for us as an organization. We have new donors, we have raised the profile of Career Wardrobe on Twitter, Facebook and other media, and we hope to meet our personal goal of raising $5,000 in one month.

Below you will find our final JobRaising Challenge #StoryofaSuit, but it is by no means our final story. Ernestine's journey is that of a woman who overcame nearly insurmountable challenges to raise herself into a job and raise her family into a home. We take our lead from Ernestine: facing our fears and surpassing all our goals. In the process, we have been humbled by the outpouring of appreciation and support we've received from our community, realizing now just how great a reach we can have.

The #StoryofaSuit will continue to be told. Share yours to @careerwardrobe or on our Facebook page and help us raise women into the jobs they need and deserve. Support our work today by making a donation here.

Ernestine's Story of a Suit: That Motivation, That Push.

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"Career Wardrobe gives you that motivation. That push. And the clothing really makes you feel good about yourself. Yes it does."

Ernestine Volcy loves to work. Her first job was as a home health aide providing hospice care, and later she served as residential counselor caring for mentally ill patients. The work was particularly gratifying, she says, recalling how she had helped a middle-aged woman learn to speak by getting her to imitate sounds while playing a Connect-4 game.

But after being attacked by a resident, which resulted in a back injury, she had to leave her job. That turn in her life would prove fateful.

"Everything began to get worse after that," she said. She rose to a managerial position at a bakery, but made a series of poor decisions. One would get her fired. Another would tie her to an abusive man. She ended up homeless and unemployed, in a shelter for battered women with her four children.

During the two years in the shelter, she participated in a welfare-to-work program. When she was applying for a job at Girard Medical Center, the staff from the program referred her to Career Wardrobe. She had almost forgotten the rush of self-confidence that comes from looking in a full-length mirror and seeing a well-dressed woman.

"It was amazing," she recalls. "They supplied everything I needed for an interview." In 2003 when Ernestine was nominated for the Governor's Achievement Award, she returned to the Career Wardrobe. "They put me in a black and white pinstripe suit that they told me one of the TV anchors had worn!"

Now 42, Ernestine lives in her own home with her children. She works full-time as an advocate while she is enrolled in a school for biblical studies. She credits God, her Pastor, and Career Wardrobe for helping her sustain the momentum she needed to move her life forward again.

Story by Melissa Dribben, Philadelphia Inquirer. Photograph by Jeffrey Holder. Story of a Suit was made possible with support from US Airways, Jeffrey Holder Photography, RichArt, and Dudnyk.