Dress for Success Expands to Better Help Area Women

The expansion includes a new Career Center.


If you ever wanted a living example of “sisterhood,” you would have found it Wednesday at a Dress for Success party celebrating the nonprofit’s expansion and all that it means for area women.

The organization expanded its space in south Fort Myers (a gift from the Elizabeth K. Galleana Foundation will cover the rent for the next three years) and opened a new Career Center with the help of a $5,000 grant from the Zonta Foundation of Southwest Florida. And that center is the place where CEO Barbara Dell hopes new career women will be born.

“This room,” she said, “is going to become very important.”

Dell founded the Southwest Florida chapter of Dress for Success in 2010. She started with the organization’s core focus: to provide business attire to low-income women to wear on interviews and, hopefully, to outfit them for the jobs they land.

But Dell knew clothing wasn’t the only barrier to the workforce. Over the past six years, she has introduced job training and entrepreneurship and leadership classes, along with mentoring programs, to help unemployed or underemployed women grow their skills. The Career Center, which features eight new computers, will allow for additional training in technology, resume writing, typing and the like.

“We all have the same mission,” said Nancy Dreher, a member of the Zonta Club of Sanibel-Captiva, who was among the club representatives celebrating the affair. “We want to empower women and girls.”

Dress for Success helped Jessica Wajoli develop a business making and selling handmade African clothes, jewelry and baskets. Now she wants to help other women. 

Sitting just outside the computer lab, flanked by an assortment of beaded jewelry and baskets, Jessica Wajoli offered a powerful testimony to the power of women helping women. She came to the United States from Ghana six years ago. Her marriage grew violent, and she sought refuge in a shelter for abused women. That’s where she first met Dell, whose organization outfitted her for an upcoming interview for a job as a nursing assistant.

Wajoli got the job—and an invitation to temporarily live with her new boss in Punta Gorda, who was moved by her story. She got back on her feet, found a place to live in Fort Myers, and got back in touch with Dress for Success. Wajoli loves caregiving, but she is also a skilled craftsperson and harbored dreams of running a business.

She attended a Dress for Success entrepreneurship program. The instructor urged her to push forward. “You will do great,” Wajoli remembers her saying. “I can see the spirit in you.”

Wajoli launched her company, Wajoli Africanwear, which features handmade jewelry, baskets and clothing. She sells her products primarily at area farmer’s markets. And now, she’s spinning her success forward. She spends her free time teaching beadwork to seniors in Southwest Florida and she’s working to establish job opportunities for widows in her native Ghana.

“I’m so excited about everything that’s going on in my life,” she said. “And I’m so grateful.”

Dress for Success is headquartered in Fort Myers and has a boutique in Collier County at the Hodges University campus. For more information, visit its website or call 689-4992.