BELLE GLADE – It has been difficult to find a job at Belle Glade since the Great Recession. It is even harder to find something suitable for a job interview. And that’s how Mati Rodriguez’s eyes lit up the day the perfect outfit materialized right in front of her.
Turquoise button fastening. Black pants. Block heels. And accessories to complete.
“I love it. I feel great,” Rodriguez told the stylist for Dress For Success, the nonprofit that has entrusted its mission of providing low-income women with workwear to The Glades.
At the corner of South Main Street and Southeast Avenue K, Dress for Success shares an office building and common goal with CareerSource Palm Beach County, an organization that works to reduce unemployment with a job search database , job fairs and job preparation workshops. .
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These connections, which include the neighbor Dress for Success, can be particularly useful in The Glades, where the unemployment rate is much higher than in the county as a whole.
Several factors increase unemployment rates in the towns of Glades
About 20% of Belle Glade’s 16,698 residents are currently unemployed, said Kelly Smallridge, chair of the Palm Beach County Business Development Board.
Tom Veenstra, vice president of administration at CareerSource, said the county’s unemployment rate is now 4.8%, below both the national rate of 5.7% and the state rate of 5.1%.
But the Glades’ unemployment rate is five times that of the county, according to Veenstra.
Smallridge cited several barriers women face when re-entering the workforce. Transportation – largely by bus – is unreliable. Daycare is expensive. The economy is concentrated in a few large industries, such as agriculture, offering fewer job choices than women can find in towns along the coast.
Along with unemployment and underemployment, women who receive assistance face challenges such as poverty, homelessness, recovery from addiction and mental or physical disabilities, said Mary Hart, Executive Director by Dress for Success Palm Beaches.
Finding the right work clothes is just another challenge.
“We are much more than clothes”
“We are judged by what we wear, whether we like it or not, consciously or unconsciously. We’re helping level the playing field, ”Hart said. “They are amazing women we work with – amazing women with gifts and a lot to share.”
“But if they show up (to an interview) and are not dressed appropriately, they may be immediately judged on that basis and not have a fair opportunity.”
Due to the lack of retail stores in the community, women often do not have the opportunity to “dress to impress”.
Palm Springs-based Dress For Success Palm Beaches opened 11 years before its Belle Glade location. With the help of volunteers and more than 70 partner organizations, the association has helped nearly 6,000 women through its wardrobe and job preparation programs.
Hart said the Palm Springs chapter of Dress for Success has always wanted to expand west to meet growing needs, but the push to relocate was prompted by CareerSource, the community partner, who told him about the ‘available space.
The Dress for Success mission aims for economic independence
The Belle Glade location opened in May and is open to customers every Wednesday. In the boutique-style space, with a stylist, you can buy a head-to-toe outfit, accessories and makeup for a job interview. Once hired, they can come back to select a week of clothing.
Her mission is more than just making a beautiful woman.
Hart, who sometimes acts as a stylist, said that every program offered by Dress for Success is designed to help women from all walks of life – “GED to Ph.D” as she put it – “add to their box. tools “and achieve economic independence. Due to COVID-19, sessions are currently virtual.
- The next step: From 18 to 25 years old, 10 weeks, sessions of 2h30, launched in 2013. More than 120 graduates, 60% of whom find a job directly.
- Road to success: 26 years and over, 8 weeks, 3 hour sessions, launched in 2014. More than 200 graduates, 65% of whom find employment directly.
- Group of professional women: For graduates looking for advice on workplace issues such as financial literacy.
“We are so much more than clothes,” Hart said.
Once ‘bustling’, Belle Glade now has few places where women can buy clothes.
Rodriguez, 56, heard about Dress for Success through the Glades Initiative, a non-profit organization that aims to improve the delivery of health and social services in the area, and also helps residents apply for jobs. jobs.
Before the COVID-19 outbreak, she worked at a local restaurant. She wants to work again. Her first challenge, she says, was finding a store that sold professional clothing.
Besides Goodwill and It’s Fashion, a store that caters to young shoppers, she said there is a limited selection of affordable stores, especially for women looking for work clothes.
“There’s really nothing here, come to think of it. There isn’t one, ”she said.
Tammy Jackson-Moore, founder and director of Guardians of the Glades, says Belle Glade hasn’t always been like that.
“It used to be a bustling and very active downtown community, but over time and with the economy and things changing, those stores are gone,” she said. “There have been (cases) where women, men and children have had to leave the community to do their shopping. It became a hardship for some people who didn’t have the transportation or the ability to get to these other places.
Nationwide, 22 million people lost their jobs during the pandemic, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics. Some layoffs were temporary. Others are permanent. The service sector has taken a big hit.
In the Census Bureau’s five-year estimate, some of the most common jobs Glades women work in are retail, health care, education, and food service.
Before pandemic closures, Niterria Love worked in an assisted living facility, but after contracting the virus and recovering, she was too afraid to come back.
Guardians of the Glades, which manages food drives and provides access to COVID-19 testing sites as part of its advocacy for the community, connected Love, 33, to Dress for Success.
The nonprofit organization provides interview outfits, resume tips and tricks
One Wednesday afternoon, she took another step back to work. With the help of Hart and Jackson-Moore, Love not only left Dress for Success with an interview outfit, but also with CV tips, interview tips, and other aids.
The kind of support Dress for Success provides – fashion and work advice from other women – is encouraging, Rodriguez said.
“I think it’s a great idea because you come here and you get the support of the ladies,” she said. “It’s pretty much like going to an expensive store and getting a one-on-one, but if you don’t have the resources, you can do it anyway.