Thursday, December 13, 2012

Andrea L. Cowley, Associate Director, Dress for Success Indianapolis

At Dress for Success Indianapolis, we believe that an empowered woman is an asset to herself, her family, her community and the world. We believe the more thoughtful about our programming and informed about workforce development and poverty issues we are, the more successful we will be at fulfilling our mission. I can’t thank the Indiana Institute for Working Families enough for the thoughtful, insightful research you make available to our community. We regularly use your research and resources in all aspects of our organization and I can’t express to you how much we value your work.

Dress for Success Indianapolis partners with nearly 90 community agencies in Central Indiana who refer women for interview and work attire, as well as preemployment and career development assistance. Once employed, women are offered programming through our Professional Women’s Group that is designed to help women keep employment, build a network of support and develop a career that will help them achieve true self-sufficiency. Throughout our programming we use your research to not only determine what employment opportunities are realistic, abundant and obtainable for our women, but also use the Indiana Self-Sufficiency Standard Calculator to determine a target wage for women based on county of residence and family composition. We have recently begun using the ancillary documents and tools provided through the Indiana Self-Sufficiency Standard Calculator and have been excited by the diversity of the tools and their ability to fill our existing needs.

As an organization, we’re incredibly fortunate to have the support of over 400 active volunteers. We feel that in order for our volunteers to give their talents most effectively, helping them understand the situations our women are in is vitally important to the continuance of our work. In each of our volunteer orientations, as well as our Board orientations, we work with our volunteers on a fictional monthly budget for a single-mom making $9/hour. Through this exercise, we better understand some of the truly tough choices working families are making every day. We include real expenses and discuss FSSA programs available to low-income families. This exercise gives us tons of time to explore how these programs work and helps our volunteers understand a world they often have only heard about. We find sharing information like you provided in The Cliff Effect report, combined with information from the Indiana Self-Sufficiency Standard Calculator allows our volunteers to not only be more empathetic of our women’s situations, but they are also more informed citizens. Many even continue to send me information they find about poverty and economic issues well after they have started volunteering.

I also find your work incredibly helpful as we seek funding for our programs. As a city, we’re incredibly fortunate to have a healthy, supportive philanthropic community. Our foundations and grantors are not only sources of funding, but also guide, support and often position themselves as thought leaders on issues such as ending poverty in our city. As funders look to organizations to provide more research and simultaneously more outcome measurements to prove the effectiveness of programming, I thank you for providing a consistent, reliable source of information regarding working families in Indiana. There is truly no other single resource that provides the breadth and depth of information about the issues working Hoosiers face.

I like to think that as a social service community, we have a collective vision that families deserve the chance to succeed in work and in life. Helping women in Central Indiana move forward on their journeys toward self-sufficiency is a complicated and daunting task that demands thoughtful, innovative and responsive programming and support. Thank you for providing access to research and information that allows us to add value to all aspects of our organization and ensures the most successful programming possible for our women, our community and our world.

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