How this Winter Park-based Nonprofit Turned Adversity into Advancement

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Dress for Success has helped millions of women around the world attain economic independence by building self-confidence and sharpening professional skills. Victims of poverty, human trafficking, and abusive relationships have received assistance and achieved the goal of gainful employment through the nonprofit’s volunteer-led services.

Its global mission began impacting the local community in 2001 with the opening of Dress for Success of Greater Orlando, but operations were disrupted in 2022 when damage and flooding from Hurricane Ian shuttered its facility in the office park at 901 W. Webster Ave. The circumstances would present a challenge and an opportunity for newly appointed Executive Director, Joann Febus, who started the job just two weeks before the hurricane. With just two part-time administrative assistants, managing the logistics of relocation while helping clients was a daunting task.

Part of the Dress for Success mission is to provide business attire for job interviews via one-hour sessions with volunteers trained in personal styling. “Body image is such a big deal,” said Febus. “If a woman is not comfortable with her image, she’s not going to be comfortable in negotiating a salary and may just take anything as a result.” While the sessions and wardrobe are important, they are just one step in a workforce development process facilitated by a network of providers.

Wardrobe and accessories are donated from private sources, but Febus and her staff are focusing on increasing financial assistance as part of the organization’s upcoming 23rd anniversary.

Among the list of local partners, Christian Tech Center Ministries provides repair services and computers free of charge. The University of Central Florida has allocated regular space for Dress for Success clients in an English as a Second Language class. Students from Aveda Institute Orlando help with styling and makeup. And starting this spring, interns from Ana G. Mendez University Metro Orlando Campus will lead the Dress for Success workforce development workshops.

After the hurricane damage was assessed, Febus forged a new partnership with CarreerSource Central Florida that led to a temporary office and much more. “I was able to negotiate a contract where, in exchange for referring applicants to CarreerSource services, they would allocate our space for free,” she said. The agreement resulted in access to CarreerSource counselors, job placement programs, and weekly job fairs. Through a CareerSource partnership with Orange County Public Schools, Dress for Success of Greater Orlando received inquiries from 1,300 students seeking assistance. And the additional resources allowed the nonprofit to assist more than 3,000 clients in 2023. “To really support the community, we have to do more than take care of people in crisis,” Febus said. “The efforts should also be preventative, and the new partnerships really help with that.”

After two years at the Ocoee offices of CareerSource Central Florida, Dress for Success of Greater Orlando returned to its Winter Park office in March. And the temporary location is now established as an official secondary office. But Febus has only begun to tackle her to-do list.

Of the corporate donations received over the past year, 96% were clothing, 3% were volunteers, and 1% were monetary. To raise funds and spread the message about the Dress for Success mission, plans are under way for a first responders’ challenge. “It would be an entire month where police, fire, medical, and military could help raise funds in their community,” Febus explains. Winners of the friendly competition could then nominate individuals for personal styling services. “It’s a cool competition and a fun way to give back to the community, and it’s something that can play out over social media.”

Dress for Success of Greater Orlando will also celebrate its 23rd anniversary with the Making Her-Story event, happening Thursday, May 23, from 5:30-7:30 p.m. at Hannibal Square Heritage Center. Tickets are $23 and the event will feature networking, lite bites, and success stories from past Dress for Success clients.

“We see women who are making their way back from very serious conditions,” Febus said. “They’re empowering themselves and learning they can provide for themselves and their families, and they will pass that empowerment on to their children.”

For more information on local Dress for Success programs, volunteer opportunities, and ways to donate, log onto

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