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All dressed up, places to go

Sonya Hall recently took the reins of a non-profit organization that seeks to fix just that: Help women change their lives by outfitting them with the tools, and attire, they need to enter or re-enter the workforce. Photography | Toril Lavender

HUNTINGTON. W.Va. — Business experts say you should dress for the job you want, not the job you have.

But what if you don’t have a job or can’t afford a professional-looking wardrobe?

Sonya Hall recently took the reins of a non-profit organization that seeks to fix just that: Help women change their lives by outfitting them with the tools, and attire, they need to enter or re-enter the workforce.

Hall, 46, of Kenova, W.Va., took her post as executive director of Dress for Success River Cities in January after serving three years on its board of directors. It was a job Hall said she dove into headfirst.

“I didn’t have any reservations because I wanted to do something that I felt like was making an impact on people’s lives,” she said.

Hall had been in the media industry for much of her career, working at Clear Channel Communications, WOWK and WSAZ. She had also done work in the non-profit sector, working with the Ronald McDonald House and as president of Friends of Hospice. Being asked to step up to executive director with Dress for Success was just a natural fit, Hall said.

“Seeing the difference we make, it’s very touching,” Hall said. “A lot of people have helped me along the way when I’ve had bumps in the road of life and that’s exactly what these women are experiencing. They come in, most of them very downtrodden, down on their luck and having some struggles. You know, as a woman, if you feel like you look good on the outside, it makes you feel different on the inside. And to watch these women go through that transformation, it’s very rewarding.”

So how does Dress for Success make a difference?

Clients are referred to Dress for Success from one of many social service agencies throughout the Tri-State. These range from Goodwill Industries of KYOWVA Area, Inc. in Cabell County, W.Va., to the Workforce Development Resource Center in Lawrence County, Ohio.

After a referral, women go to the Dress for Success boutique in Huntington, W.Va., where they can use the career transformation center to work on their resumes and cover letters, send faxes and make calls to prospective employers, use job search sites online and prepare for interviews.

Once job interviews are set up, Dress for Success outfits each client with professional attire, be it a business suit, health care scrubs or retail attire. The organization also outfits clients with shoes, handbags, jewelry and even makeup.

“Once they obtain a job and secure a job, they come back and they can have a full week’s worth of professional attire,” Hall said. “We want them to have the whole shopping experience. We let them choose what they want. If it needs altered at all, then Bonnie Davis (suiting program manager) does that.”

When Dress for Success River Cities opened five years ago, the organization helped five women. Last year, the organization served 279 individuals.

All the services are at no charge to the client, which means volunteers and support through donations are extremely important to the non-profit.

Big Sandy Superstore, one of the many corporate sponsors, recently donated a front-load washer and dryer and a refrigerator to the boutique.

“The clothes are supposed to come to us clean, but that doesn’t always happen,” Hall said.

Clear Channel Communications also donates airtime for public service announcements and to talk about upcoming fundraisers.

Clothes and accessories in the boutique are also all donated. Items that can’t be used in the boutique are donated back to the community.

As the new director, Hall said she has many goals in mind to help the organization serve as many women as possible.

The first goal, she said, is to bring Dress for Success to the forefront.

“I still run into people all the time who say, ‘I’ve heard of Dress For Success, but I’m not exactly sure what you do.’ I want to change that,” Hall said.

Hall also said the boutique is busting at the seams at its current location on Fourth Avenue in Huntington.

“We’re just overflowing,” Hall said. “In order to keep helping the women of the Tri-State like we really need to, we need a larger location.”

Among other needs are newer computers, a new telephone system and a SUV to serve women in outlying counties who can’t make the trip into downtown Huntington.

Hall is also coordinating fundraisers throughout the year. There was a spring overstock sale in March where the community could buy clothing and accessory items. A fashion show and auction are slated for June 15 at Marshall University.

Hall said she has enjoyed every job she has ever had (almost), but felt that working in the non-profit sector was “kind of a bug that bit me.”

“And I wanted to do more,” Hall said. “I wanted to be doing something that made an impact on people’s lives. I think we have the ability to do that everyday, no matter what we’re doing. But to be able to be here and be a bigger part of the bigger picture, it really means to world to me. I feel very blessed to be here.”