Community Partner Podcast Series: Amara Martin with Dress For Success Denver

[Below is a transcription of the podcast]

Cheri Landin: Hello and welcome to The Mortgage Company’s Community Partner podcast series. My name is Cheri Landin and I am the Community Development Director here at The Mortgage Company and one of the things that I get to do have the pleasure of doing is interviewing some of our community partners just so we can learn a little bit more about them and be able to share it with anyone listening or looking to learn more about them. So today I’m joined by Amara Martin. She is the executive director of Dress for Success Denver. Welcome.

Amara Martin: Thank you so much. It’s my pleasure to be here. Thank you for having us.

Cheri Landin: Absolutely. So Dress for Success Denver. Let’s just start with, what is it

Amara Martin: Well Dress for Success is an international organization. There are 157 affiliates in the United States and we’re in 22 countries. Dress for Success Denver was founded in 2007. And what we do is provide three major things. We provide professional attire, career tools, and a network of support for women who are trying to get into the workforce, rather they are re-entering the workforce or are coming in for the very first time.

Cheri Landin: Oh wow that’s awesome. Alright. So how long have you been involved and what made you choose Dress for Success.

Amara Martin: Well I actually knew the founder of the Denver affiliate she was working with us. We were all working at Nordstrom together. And she left to go and found the affiliate and when she left she said everybody needs to come and volunteer. And I started volunteering in January of 2007. And I love this volunteer because I got to personal style people. I got to pick out the best clothes, the best shoes, the best scarves, and there was no money involved. So this was quite fun. And after I did it a couple of times though I realized that this is so much more than just dressing someone. You are altering the direction of their professional life you’re altering the direction of their career and their family’s life. It’s deep. It is very serious. Women getting jobs and keeping jobs and being able to provide for their families. And so after volunteering for a little bit of time, I was hooked and I was hired in September of 2007. So I just celebrated 10 years with the organization.

Cheri Landin: Congratulations.

Amara Martin: Thank you so much.

Cheri Landin: That’s awesome. Alright. So describe the lady that would come to Dress For Success. And are there any parameters or requirements, if you will, to be able to use your services?

Amara Martin: So we are a referral service. So in order to get to us, you have to have a referral. So let’s say that you are on unemployment and you’re constantly on unemployment. You get a job, you lose a job, you get it, you lose it etc. You’ve gone into homelessness where you’re couchsurfing, you’re going to different friends houses, you have no stability, you are really struggling to make ends meet. And then let’s imagine that you get a call for a job interview and it’s not just any interview. It’s that one interview that you really want and you’re thinking, you go to your closet like we all do, the first thing you do is go to your closet and you see you have nothing there. And you could borrow something, you could ask somebody, you don’t have any money to buy anything. So you go to your workforce director, you go to your workforce specialist and you ask them what can I do I have nothing to wear. Well, they’re going to refer you to Dress for Success. And when you come down you’re going to be greeted by one of our personal stylists and they are going to dress you. You’re going to go through our clothing boutique, which looks like a real clothing boutique, and you’re going to get the best outfit, the best shoes, the best bag, the best jewelry that looks professional but also really makes you feel good. Then you’re going to go and talk to one of our career coaches because as we all know you can’t just look good. You have to be able to answer the questions. You have to have your resume. You have to do the research on the company. So you work with a career coach. And so when you come into Dress for Success, you come in needing all of these different resources, all these tools in order to gain your employment. And then when you leave, you leave with everything that you need. And we in Denver, we have a tagline which is, “We inspire confidence, courage, and belief in women.” And that is really what we do because it is all of those different things.

Cheri Landin: Well and you need all of those things to confidently walk into that interview and land this dream job.

Amara Martin: Absolutely. You need all those things for the interview and you need them for employment. Absolutely. If you’ve never worked a professional job before, a lot of women that we’re working with have never worked a professional job. They are making the shift from restaurant or hospitality into office work. Some of them are coming out of shelters. Some of them are coming out of incarceration. They’re coming from school. They’re coming from everywhere and they are making that shift and saying that they want to try to build into a career. And so you need to have that self-confidence. Confidence is the number one thing that employers are looking for. And you really need to have it.

Cheri Landin: Absolutely. And I will say I have been to Dress for Success Denver and I was really, really impressed when I walked in because as you just described, it is quite the shopping experience and just the layout of it and the shoes like there’s a shoe department and there’s a jewelry department. And it was just absolutely wonderful and the quality of the merchandise, I think it’s really fabulous that this is a resource for women.

Amara Martin: We’re really proud to have that level of resource because when women come to us, they lack that self-confidence they lack that self-worth and just by bringing them into a space where they are treated with respect, where everything is with dignity, you start to elevate how they feel about themselves. And then they’re interacting with our volunteers and when the volunteer is looking them in the eye and getting on their knees to help them with their hands and they’re finding them the best thing, it makes them feel worth it. It makes them feel value. And you can literally see the women start to stand up straight. You can see that their mind, the wheels turning, of all of the possibilities that they could achieve.

Cheri Landin: Alright you mentioned that they come to you through referral and you mentioned a source or two. What are the sources that they come from, the referral sources

Amara Martin: So we have about 150 referral partners in the Denver metro area. So it starts with all of the workforce centers. So every single workforce center is one of our referral partners. Then fellow nonprofit organizations such as The Gathering Place, the Women’s Being Project, Warren Village. Then we go into shelters. So domestic violence shelters, homeless shelters. Those are big referrals. We also have women who are coming out of incarceration. So if you’re working with a parole officer, if you’re in a halfway house, substance abuse facilities, any type of transition. But we also have local schools. We have a huge partnership with Community College of Denver, Community College of Aurora because our parameters are if you do not have the ability to get what you need, then you need a referral to us. And I remember way back when I was in college and I came out and tried to interview for a professional job, I didn’t have anything. I didn’t know what exactly was professional to wear because I had been living in jeans and t-shirts and hoodies. I mean I didn’t know. And so we’re also providing that educational element to all of our clients.

Cheri Landin: That’s awesome. All right. So Dress for Success is a nonprofit organization. So all of them have needs at any point in time and I’m sure they shift depending on what time of year or what’s going on. So if you were to say what the biggest needs of Dress for Success are today what would that be

Amara Martin: Well I’ve got four for you.

Cheri Landin: Alright

Amara Martin: So the first one is exactly what we’re doing today. It is awareness. So every single year we are serving about 1,500 women. Which is a lot of women. That’s almost 13,000 women who have walked through our doors since we started way back in 2006. And so we need awareness. We need people to know about our services. We need people to know who will come and volunteer, which is our next need. Volunteering is key. We have a staff of three people and we serve fifteen hundred women. We are volunteer driven. So we have volunteers who serve as personal stylists so we like to dress people you’ve got an opinion, a fashion eye. We have career coaches who are helping with resumes and interview prep and employment prep. Then we have our volunteers who do the work.

Cheri Landin: Alright. So, Amara, I know that you guys have a lot of volunteer opportunities as you just described. And just myself, I talked to a lot of women and people in the community and many are motivated to volunteer at an organization. Of course, there are so many out there that are great. So if someone is out there listening and they’re interested in perhaps volunteering with Dress for Success and they’re concern though is time. I think that’s the thing for people. What is the time commitment to be a volunteer?

Amara Martin: Well our main volunteer opportunities are the personal styling as well as the career coaching. That is done Tuesday through Friday from 10 to 12 and 1 to 3. So we’re asking for that two-hour time block. That seems doable to me. I remember working a full-time job and volunteering and I was able to carve out two hours. We don’t have a requirement such as 20 hours a month, 30 hours a month. We don’t have that type of a thing. It’s that two-hour time commitment and I have some volunteers who come weekly, some who come monthly. Some who come quarterly because that’s all that they can get off. We also have other volunteer opportunities that go with some of our other programs. So we have our donation days when we’re collecting all of our donations on the second Saturday of the month. We have a volunteer opportunity there from 9:30 until 2:30 p.m. That’s one Saturday. That’s a great opportunity to bring a group. So let’s say you have a book club or a church club or your friends or your high school student. Anybody who can carry clothes who can sort and collect our donations, that’s a great volunteer opportunity for them. And it’s a Saturday. We have a lot of companies who participate in that. So that’s where you can bring 8 to 15 people and really have a serious impact in that time. Then within our other programming, I have volunteer opportunities with our professional women’s group, which is our networking group for the women who have come through our program. And we meet once a month, 6:30 to 8:00 p.m. on the last Tuesday of every month. And so we need volunteers to come in and to help us set up, to help us organize, to help with instructing those classes. We need subject matter experts and so oftentimes people will volunteer for those opportunities. And then finally we have job readiness classes that we teach at some of those partner agencies that I spoke of before and that is a one-time volunteer opportunity for two hours. So for people who are thinking about volunteering or who really want to get involved, I strongly encourage them to visit our website at Denver.dressforsuccess.org and look at all of the different opportunities because there is something for everybody and we definitely would love to have you involved.

Cheri Landin: Well it sounds like there’s clearly a variety of times, time of the day, the day of the week, frequency. I love that. So the set time frames for the personal stylist and the career coaches, I’m assuming then, are your services by appointment only.

Amara Martin: It is. Everything is by appointment only. Since we are that referral service, we can kind of monitor who’s coming and going. And so we’re able to schedule clients according to when we have volunteers there.

Cheri Landin: So you know you’ll be busy.

Amara Martin: Volunteers are always running, doing all kinds of stuff. If we don’t have any clients, then you’re cleaning the boutique, sorting clothes, it’s the ultimate retail experience.

Cheri Landin: Great. Alright. So is there anything coming in the near future that you’d like to let people know about.

Amara Martin: You know there actually is. This year, we are restarting our Beyond the Suit Breakfast. We had the breakfast in 2011 and 2012 and we are bringing that back because this is a wonderful opportunity to get to know Dress for Success programs, services to hear stories from our clients, to see a great video. We strongly encourage everyone to attend. So February 27th at the Denver Athletic Club from 8:00 a.m. to 9:00 a.m. we’re having this breakfast. There is no cost for this breakfast because we really want you to come down and we want you to learn and then we’re hoping that at the conclusion of our program you will be moved to make a donation because our number one need is always those donations. We are not a government program. We are not funded by the city, by the state, by the federal government. We are a project of the public. And so without that public support, we can’t survive. So we need the individual donations, the corporate donations, the foundation donations and by attending our events, that is the best way for you to really make that contribution to our programs and services.

Cheri Landin: Great. All right. Well wow. It’s really an amazing organization. And you serve so many of the women in our community in such a positive way. So I think that visiting, you gave the website, your upcoming breakfast which is February 27th to attend. I think it’s really wonderful and I hope that people will reach out, attend the breakfast if they can’t come in and visit, call make an appointment. And that would be great. Is there anything else you’d like us to know about your organization

Amara Martin: You know I really just want the Denver public to know that we appreciate them. We have been in business for 11 years now and the only way that we’ve been able to survive is through that public support. I am always amazed at the generosity of people in this city. Rather they are donating their handbag, their pair of shoes. Rather they’re making a donation every month from their paycheck. Rather they are bringing their company down to support us. I am amazed and it’s people because it’s women as well as men, really believe in our mission of helping women thrive in work and in life. And so we really thank everybody for their support and we look forward to all those new supporters that are going to come.

Cheri Landin: Well great. Well, I appreciate you sharing all this information with us and hope that you get a lot of people with interest in helping.

Amara Martin: Fantastic thank you so much for having us.

Cheri Landin: You’re welcome. Thanks

 

About Amara Martin

Amara Martin is a Denver native with a true passion for fashion. As a plus size model she has walked runways around the United States including companies such as Macy’s, Dillard’s and Annafesta designs. Ms. Martin has a diverse background with over 10 years of experience in the legal field and retail sales. Amara received a BA from Depauw University in English Composition and published her first book ‘Heritage of the Cemetery; Ruin is the Road to Salvation’ in 2016. In 2007 Amara joined the Dress for Success Denver team as the Program Director. She quickly discovered that Dress for Success combined all her passions of women’s empowerment and fashion. After ten years of helping over 12,000 women reach their employment goals. In May 2017, Amara was promoted to the Executive Director position. Amara believes that, “We cannot change how we are perceived we can only control how we are presented.” And that every woman deserves a chance to be successful in work and in life.

 

 

 

 

Cheri Landin

NMLS #: 984868

 

NMLS #68929

Don't Just Take Our Word For It...