Clothes for Change
A Boost for Women Moving Up Career Ladder
By: Perry Swanson
A charity that helps needy women become self-sufficient is expanding its offerings to help clients find not just jobs, but better jobs.
The Women’s Resource Agency has focused for decades on helping unemployed women find work, along with a range of other services. A main strategy is outfitting women with business clothing to wear to a job interview. The snappy duds are often a big confidence boost.
“I’ve seen women that have come in kind of unsure, maybe nervous, sad, but by the time they leave they’re floating, they’re just so excited about how they look and what they’ve gotten,” said Ev Church, a three-year Women’s Resource Agency volunteer.
After a client gets a job, she can come back to the agency and get a week’s worth of business attire, including shoes, accessories and sometimes makeup.
The setup has worked for thousands of women since the agency began in the early 1970s, but recently organizers have started helping women who are employed and want to find something better. Now women who need business clothes to move up the career ladder can jump to the second step and get five days of clothes at the beginning.
The idea is “you dress for the job that you want, not the job that you have,” said Christie Linn, the agency’s adult services director.
It’s one of many changes at the Women’s Resource Agency during the past few months. Linn is one of the changes — she started the job in December. The agency also has a new executive director, Beth Roalstad, who started last month.
Also in December, the agency moved to a storefront location in The Citadel mall, next to J.C. Penney, from a small office on Bijou Street. The new location is four or five times bigger than the old one, Linn said. It allows a presentation that looks like a boutique, with dressing rooms and merchandise spread out on racks as in a traditional clothing store.
But unlike the sky-high prices at some retail outlets, the clothes at the Women’s Resource Agency are free to women who need them. The rules on who can use the services are flexible, but generally clients have less than poverty-level income. For a woman with two children, that’s $17,600 this year.
Women’s Resource Agency had about 600 adult clients last year, and it hopes to increase that by at least 30 percent this year, Linn said. It survives mainly off donations.
Some of the other services it offers include help crafting resumes, finding job leads and coaching on job interview skills. There’s a “job club” for women every Monday morning, where a volunteer advises clients and cheers them on in their job searches.
Colorado Springs resident Elaine Fraser showed up at the club for the first time last week looking for ideas and support. Fraser was laid off more than two months ago and is seeking work as a project specialist. She’s got a range of computer and administrative skills but had some uncertainty about parlaying them into a job.
“I’ve never had to have a resume in the different jobs that I’ve had, so for me this is a whole different kind of experience,” she said. “For me, after having the same job for 18 years, it’s a little nervous going out there.”
Facilitator Betty Carr-Tilley offered attendees words of encouragement and sage advice drawn from years in the information technology world.
“You can do it, but you have to do it one day at a time,” she said.
VOLUNTEERS NEEDED: The Women’s Resource Agency is seeking volunteers to help as “personal shoppers” for clients, greeting women, helping with office work, sorting donations and doing other tasks.
It also needs quality, washed, professional women’s clothing. Volunteers collect clothing the second Saturday of every month at the agency’s office in The Citadel mall, 750 Citadel Drive, Colorado Springs, Colorado.