Making a Difference Since 1997:
Suited to Succeed
by Ginny Robertson
Cheryl (not her real name) had been in an abusive relationship for more than 20 years. When she realized that she needed to move out to protect herself and her children, she left her home with nothing. She was starting over in every respect: Cheryl had never worked outside the home, never managed her own money, never had been in control of her life.
Cheryl entered a local training program offered by one of Suited to Succeed’s (STS) referring partners. There, she learned that she wanted to train as a geriatric assistant in a local nursing home. She wanted to help others. Cheryl was so positive and enthusiastic about the future and what she was capable of accomplishing. One of the perks of participating in a training program offered by an STS referral partner is the opportunity to select business clothing appropriate for interviews.
At first, Cheryl couldn’t find anything in her size. Although she was disappointed, she was still thankful for the shoes and accessories she’d found. Then her miracle happened. A delivery of clothing arrived from Curves of Catonsville, and in that mountain of generosity were, not one but two, size 24 business suits. They both fit Cheryl perfectly. She was thrilled with her new look, and, more important, she felt great about herself. She was ready to interview, land her first position and begin contributing to the world in the way that only Cheryl could.
And so it was another day at Suited to Succeed. Founded in 1997, STS is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization that provides business clothing to women who are participating in training programs to prepare for employment and economic self-sufficiency. Days at STS are filled with clients coming in with hopes and dreams about creating a new future for themselves and their families.
Clients are invited to select an outfit to wear for their interviews. Once they are hired, they are invited back to select one or two more outfits to create a business wardrobe. To date, STS has supported more than 4,000 women. During March of this year, 181 clients were referred for clothing. In addition, 15 outfits were donated to the Junior League mentoring program, bringing the total of clients served to just under 200.
During welfare reform, in the late 1990s, hundreds of training programs were created throughout the greater Baltimore area. Each had a unique mission, and each shared the common purpose of assisting with the transition from public assistance to self-sufficiency. A group of Baltimore men and women quickly realized that lack of appropriate clothing was keeping many of the training programs’ clients from seeking employment. Some of the participants’ entire wardrobes consisted of jeans and sweatshirts; most had never owned business clothing.
The group visited similar programs in Washington DC (Suited for Change) and Philadelphia (The Working Wardrobe) to learn more about how clothing was distributed. They came back to Baltimore, applied for and received non-profit status, and STS was born. “We were delighted at how generous the Baltimore community was to STS and continues to be,” says Mary Somers, co-founder and current board chair.
“Mercy Hospital provided space to store clothing. Linda Kaestner and Bob Greene from Snelling Staffing Network provided seed money and a location to see clients. Procter and Gamble (among other organizations) gave us a grant to launch our program. NationsBank (now Bank of America) provided our current location at 100 Light Street in downtown Baltimore. That became the turning point for STS. We were now ready to effectively and efficiently see clients and provide an experience that acknowledged their hard work.”
Suited to Succeed is staffed by Baltimore women. Bea Berry, Margaret King and Barbara Stokes, all former senior interns from the Baltimore Office of Family and Children’s Services, work part-time. Vanessa Langs works with clients, and Jackie Haynes, bookkeeper and administrative manager, is responsible for managing the budget and responding to calls about the program.
Clothing is obtained in many ways. Nearly every day someone makes a personal donation. Businesses, churches, synagogues and women’s organizations, among others, often hold drives for STS. For example, Women Investing in Real Estate has collected new pantyhose for clients. ZIPS Drycleaners of Baltimore and Washington DC held a massive clothing drive last year that provided more than 1,500 items. Chezelle and Jones & Jones at the Village of Cross Keys hold clothing drives each year and provide discounts to customers who donate. And the Little Shoe Box in Ruxton has donated dozens of pairs of designer shoes.
STS enjoys working with other Baltimore women’s organizations, too. For example, STS is a drop off point for The Priceless Gown Project (www.pricelessgown.org), a local organization that collects and distributes gowns for Baltimore City high school students to wear to their proms. And the Johns Hopkins Women’s Board invites STS on the last day of their annual Best-Dressed Sale to select business clothing. STS provides hangers for their event.
If you’d like to make a donation, plan a clothing drive or become involved in some other way, call 410-528-1799. Currently, STS is accepting spring and summer interview-appropriate clothing (current, dry-cleaned and on hangers), shoes, purses, costume jewelry and other accessories. There is a tremendous need for size 16 and above.
Suited to Succeed’s annual fundraiser,
Suit-A-Palooza is fast approaching. “This year’s event promises to be our most exciting yet!” says Tracey Haldeman, president of Pinnacle Communications in Towson and STS board member. To be held at the Lyric Opera House on Wednesday, May 24, from 5–8 PM, the evening includes a live and silent auction with delicious food provided by Noah’s on the Side in Ellicott City (www.noahsontheside.com).
Live auction items include an Orioles game in the Mayor’s skybox, a weekend at the Tremont Hotel and more. Local radio and television personality Steve Rouse and Fox 45 news anchor Patrice Harris will co-host the event, and State Senator Lisa Gladden (a co-founder of STS) will serve as honorary chairperson. Tickets are $40 each or 2/$75 and can be purchased from any board member or on the website via Paypal at www.suitedtosucceed.org. For more information, contact 410-528-1799 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Suited to Succeed is supported by an active and dedicated board. The women on the board come from diverse work and personal experiences. Board members and former board members like Sandy Monk and Wendy Slaughter, motivated by the quiet satisfaction of helping other women, regularly drive their vehicles filled to the brim with clothing.
It’s been my privilege to serve on the STS board going on two years. It’s been gratifying and great fun to have even a small role in providing the much needed services of Suited to Succeed. My current board assignment is to organize the silent auction for the Suit-a-Palooza. Donors of items valued at $100 or less get one Suit-a-Palooza ticket worth $40. Donors of items valued at more than $100 get two tickets worth $75. To donate an item or a service to the Suit-a-Palooza silent auction, call me at 410-252-2703 or email email@example.com.