‘Outfitting’ women with confidence & hope
By Kim Chiomento, Staff Writer, The Times
One of the many stylish, work appropriate outfits available to Wings for Success clients.
KENNETT – The unassuming Wings for Success office, situated quietly at 457 Birch Street, has an amazing story to tell. For disadvantaged women of Southern Chester County, it is a life-line; a place to regain confidence, find unwavering respect, and begin well guided steps toward professional success and financial self-sufficiency.
Founded in 1997, Wings for Success’ mission is “To improve the employment opportunities of disadvantaged women by providing work-appropriate attire, wardrobe guidance, and life skills workshops.” It is the only program of its kind in Chester County; and has helped more than 8,000 women move forward and overcome challenging personal circumstances including homelessness, domestic abuse and recovery from addiction. However, it’s likely anyone who has had the opportunity to visit or volunteer at a “Wings’”location, and has experienced the transformations that occur within its walls first-hand, would describe its mission as magic.
Following the success of its Frazer location, Wings board members set out to find a conveniently located and affordable property for the women of Southern Chester County. The challenges associated with a lack of public transportation to get from Southern Chester County to Frazer, combined with many clients not having the means to afford personal transportation, presented a major logistical obstacle for those who need Wings’ services the most. After an extensive study, Kennett Square was deemed to be an ideal location; and the United Way of Southern Chester County stepped-up to provide key financial support to help secure the space for Wings newest location.
Dansko’s donation of clogs to Wings for Success (popular among medical professionals) is just one example of the community’s generous support.
Many of Wings’ clients are referred by partner agencies like Kennett Young Moms, La Communidad Hispana, Maternal & Child Health Consortium, Kennett-Area Community Service (KACS), and His Mission; while others are simply individuals who have the courage to recognize they need help and pick up the phone to make an appointment.
Ingrid Lis, Wings’ new Kennett Square Program Manager, is passionate about helping women and families in need explaining, “Since our doors opened January 5th, we have already been able to assist eight clients and we are scheduling new appointments weekly. We expect to serve approximately 150 clients annually; and we are well on our way to doing so…it is just wonderful.”
Wings Executive Director, LeeAnn Riloff, guests Kris Smith & Megan Kampf (center), and board member, Charlene McGrady enjoy a moment at Wednesday’s grand opening celebration.
Wings for Success coordinates more than 80 volunteers, who provide everything from ‘one on one’ free personal career “shopping”, to teaching interview techniques, and offering lessons on professional decorum and counseling on how to retain a job once employed. Ingrid, along with several members of the volunteer team, are bilingual and are ready to serve a diverse array of women.
Upon entering the Wings for Success location, women are greeted with a bright and welcoming reception area, private dressing rooms, tastefully outfitted mannequins and clean, cheerful rooms full of beautiful accessories and high-quality clothing. The goal is to make clients want to enjoy their visit, feel most welcome and cared for.
(L to R) Wings Kennett Program Director – Ingrid Lis, Board President – Mary Patt Knauss & Board Member – Charlene McGrady celebrate the Kennett grand opening.
Wings’ board President and long-time volunteer, Mary Pat Knauss, (a former Agilent Technologies Executive) says after her corporate retirement a friend posed a simple question to her, “What do you miss most about not working anymore?” she responded, “I miss professional mentoring and advocating for women.” This simple question has lead to Knauss to volunteering with Wings since 2007. Her role continues to grow and since then, she has provided countless hours of dedicated leadership, professional training, and has become a dynamic, key community advocate for the Wings for Success mission.
Fellow Wings board member, Charlene McGrady enthusiastically explains, “Our clients are treated likeroyalty. We love to pamper these women, have a lot of fun while offering tips on dressing for success and work to create a very warm, non judgmental and loving environment. For some clients, this may be the very first time anyone has ever done so.”
No detail is spared when it comes to preparing these women for the work force and helping improve their self-esteem and confidence. Just one example is Wings recognizing the need for the basics like providing properly fitting new bras, underwear and other support garments; each playing a big role in self esteem, how clothing fits and are the finishing touches of a polished, professional image.
Wings for Success has received support from many large sponsors like the United Way and Dankso Shoe Company (a full list of support partners can be found on the Wings home page.) In addition, many individual community volunteers pitch-in as well, like the volunteers who make jewelry known as “Wings Bling,” to volunteers from Longwood Rotary and DuPont who hauled and unloaded many boxes of clothing and assembled countless clothing fixtures; to organizations such as The Republican Women of Chester County, who are currently organizing an accessory drive to restock Wings’ inventory (to contribute contact firstname.lastname@example.org.) Wings for Success tries to engage the whole community and encourages them to become invested in their broad reaching mission.
Because there are constantly new clients, community support is continually needed; a few immediately helpful items include: brand new bras (any size), major retailer gift cards (Walmart, Target, etc.) and new ‘scrubs’ for women entering medical professions.
Information on some incredible success stories (including before and after pictures), making financial contributions, and how to donate professional clothing, shoes, bags, etc. or how get involved, can all be found on Wings for Success’ website: www.wingsforsuccess.org. Need some help? Don’t be afraid to reach out; please call Wings for Success at (610) 444-1446 (Kennett Square) or (610) 644-6323 (Frazer).