I've bounced around my entire life, not knowing where I fit, what my passions were, or what my focus should be. I went through most of my life following what my family, what society, told me that I should do and who I should be, and it wasn't until I was 40 years old that an email came into my inbox that brought my entire life into focus and changed it.
In November, 2011, I received an email from Senator Kirsten Gillibrand's Off The Sidelines campaign soliciting donations for an organization called Dress for Success. Dress for Success (DFS) is a non-profit with over 120 affiliates worldwide, whose mission is to promote the economic independence of disadvantaged women by providing professional attire, a network of support and the career development tools to help women thrive in work and in life. Inspired by DFS's mission, I wrote to them to inquire about helping out here in Buffalo only to find out they had no Western New York affiliate. To which Worldwide's response was "Well, do you want to start one?" Little did I know that that question would lead me to my future.
I began to talk with friends and contacts about the prospect of starting a DFS affiliate in Buffalo, and the response I got was overwhelming. The more I talked about it, the more people were interested and on board. Soaking in all of this excitement and enthusiasm only added to my own and helped me to realize that this path that I started, of helping other women like myself, women who didn't know their own path, women who did not have the advantages that a lot of Americans do, was the exact path I needed to be on. I was providing myself the opportunity to help not just clothe the women in our community but to help them realize their own potential; to let them know that they are smart, capable, worthy women; and to show these women who they can be and that there are people who believe in them, so that they can begin to believe in themselves.
In the 16 months since I first received Senator Gillibrand's e-mail, it's been such an amazing journey, beyond my wildest dreams. I'm proud to say that on March 1, we opened the Buffalo affiliate of Dress For Success and I'm serving as its Executive Director. Even more exciting, just days later we dressed our first client, a young woman named Adriana, who was on welfare and didn't even have a winter coat. We dressed her on Tuesday for a job interview with Home Depot on Wednesday and I can't tell you how gratifying it was to watch her gain confidence and see the potential within herself right before my eyes. Even more gratifying was the call I got from Adriana letting us know that she got the job. The next day we appeared together on a local news show, Winging It, to talk about the incredible experience, I hope you'll watch: Dress for success
The opening of the Buffalo Dress For Success affiliate was a full circle moment for me. It had begun with an e-mail from Senator Gillibrand, and there she was standing with me at our opening. I was so honored that she'd take the time to be there and it made it clear to me that for the Senator, empowering women to become more engaged in their communities is not just a talking point or a campaign, it's a genuine passion that drives her every day. That's what her Off The Sidelines campaign is all about and that's exactly what her e-mail did for me. She got me off the sidelines and on a path to my own self-fulfillment and I can't thank her enough.
My story has strengthened in me the belief that we all have our own paths to follow, we all grow and learn at our own pace and in our own way. And the belief that we all must strive for something better for ourselves, that we can, and that we owe it to ourselves, our communities and our children, to make our life and the lives of our communities, better.