February 27, 2024

Dress for Success Houston: A Suit is Just the Start

Author Kathryn Kochanowicz, Content Specialist

Empowerment is a journey, and no woman needs to travel it alone. Dress for Success wants to make this a reality for every woman in diverse communities everywhere. The international nonprofit was founded in 1996 in New York City, and since then, has expanded to 141 affiliates in 24 countries.

Dress for Success Houston (DFSH) was the third such affiliate, and since their founding in 1998, the organization has had a hand in the success stories of more than 47,000 women.

“I believe the mission of Dress for Success Houston is to mitigate barriers and to empower women to see their highest potential,” says Lauren Levicki-Courville, president of DFSH. “It’s really a community of support and a network of a safe spaces for women to find their success.”

As studies reveal the current job market to be more difficult to navigate than ever, organizations like DFSH are an invaluable aid to many. When a job-ready woman is referred to DFSH by one of its more than 150 member organizations, she first joins volunteers in selecting the new pieces of professional attire that will comprise her “suit of armor.” While DFSH manages over 20 programs, their suiting program is probably the most well-known.

“We say that the heart of the organization is our suiting program and our professional women’s group is the soul, because that’s where that community really flourishes. It’s not just individual success, it’s group success,” says Levicki-Courville. “We’re this place where you can try things and fail, no one’s going to get upset with you. It doesn’t matter what your background is or where you come from. When you come into this building or join us online, our directive is to treat everyone with dignity and respect.”

DFSH’s Professional Women’s Group (PWG), created by DFSH co-founder Nancy Levicki, is emblematic of the organization’s history of innovation. Recognizing the importance of continued support, the PWG contributes to a sustained environment of connection and support for the women who participate in DFSH programs by providing its over 400 members with continued personal and professional development opportunities.

“It’s the ripple effect. They’re sharing with their families and their friends—that knowledge doesn’t just stay with those women. As we talk, we share, and as the ripple effect grows, so does the impact within our community,” Levicki-Courville explains. Since its creation in 2000, 71 DFS affiliates have adopted similar programs.

Just as new professional attire can be a “suit of armor” for a woman, the community of support behind every participant also acts as a kind of armor, bolstering the strength and resilience of every woman involved as each seeks to become the hero of her own story. This is evident for the more than 1,700 women veterans who have found community in DFSH’s veterans programs since 2014. Research shows that around 2/3 of women veterans feel their transition to civilian life has been difficult or very difficult, with a many reporting a general lack of peer support among civilian women.

Levicki-Courville feels immensely proud of DFSH’s veteran-centered programs, which try to address these issues and more. “They’re not a number in the government anymore. This is Houston saying we want to salute you and say thank you and create this environment for you, so they have their own lane and access all the other services.”

Looking to the future, Levicki-Courville explains that investing in technology is the way forward. When the COVID-19 pandemic struck the U.S., DFSH adapted quickly and began offering their resources online so women could maintain their connections to their community in a safe way. Laptop distribution, the continued development of their online learning system, and an increasing number of hybrid opportunities help DFSH mitigate some significant tech barriers women face in the professional world. All these efforts and more have been possible, in large part, to donor support.

“The impact of their support is invaluable. We are still a small- to mid-size organization, so every gift makes such an impact and the retention within those gifts is invaluable; our retention rate is close to 92% every year,” she notes. Grantmaking from a donor-advised fund (DAF) can offer these women expanded access to technology, professional networks and continued opportunities to meaningfully engage both personally and professionally with a compassionate community of support. “It’s a magical thing that happens here; women from all walks of life come together and there’s always something that connects them.”

About the Author

Kathryn Lena Kochanowicz is a Content Specialist at National Philanthropic Trust. She graduated from Gettysburg College with a degree in English Literature & Creative Writing, and currently resides in Hatboro, PA.