This month, at the Beyond the Suit luncheon, Dress for Success Columbus is recognizing Besa as its 2017 Partner in Empowerment. We are honored to accept it on behalf of the 425 volunteers who have served Dress for Success through Besa over the past five years. One of those heroes is Ashley VanDyke, a 28-year-old event coordinator for Molina Healthcare who has given more than 130 hours to Dress for Success through Besa. Here, meet Ashley.

Q: Why are you so passionate about the work at Dress for Success?

A: Dress was my first (and remains my favorite) Besa project, not only because I always enjoy playing dress-up but because you can see the joy and confidence bursting from the faces of the clients we serve. In every Saturday suiting, I can see the transformation in at least one—and typically more than one—client going from tired and stressed to confident and beautiful. These are hardworking women who are also mothers, partners, sisters, friends and employees. They carry a tremendous amount of stress with them each day. Most aren’t provided many opportunities to feel special and be the center of attention. And that’s exactly what the boutique experience at Dress is all about.

Q: How would you describe the Dress sisterhood?

A: I love the word sisterhood when describing the Dress experience, because that’s exactly what it is. As women, no matter where we are in life, I think all of us can relate to both the good and bad experiences we’ve had in the dressing room, and how uplifting those good experiences can be. Witnessing connections occur between these women—whether it be between client and volunteer, client and client, or volunteer and volunteer—is magical. In that space, we’re all working toward the goal of making this individual feel unique and beautiful and cared for, which is something we’re all striving for in our journey.

Q: What is a typical Saturday like there?

A: On Saturdays, there are typically three appointments at 9:30 a.m. and three appointments at 11 a.m. We conduct a short styling survey with each client to gauge a few of their preferences and work attire requirements. We try to pair each client with one or two volunteers who listen to the client’s wishes and hand deliver full looks. Each client gets an “interview suiting,” which provides one head-to-toe outfit. Once she is employed, she returns and gets to have an “employment suiting,” which provides five head-to-toe outfits. We include any and all garment pieces you can think of in an outfit—blouses, blazers, skirts or pants, dresses, jewelry, hosiery, purses, coats, scarves, belts and accessories. After the client has selected her allotted pieces, we take a quick inventory of her selections and bag her items for her to take home just as a department store would.

Q: What is one Besa give-back moment you've experienced at Dress for Success that you feel illustrates why this mission is meaningful to you?

A: Once, I was suiting a mature woman who was not pleased with the boutique experience, because she was convinced that no one other than herself would be able to pick out clothing that would be flattering. She was extremely skeptical, so I took a moment to be present and speak with her. I crouched down in her dressing room and requested that she allow me to try to suit her, and compromised that if the appointment took a direction that she was not comfortable with, we would reschedule her at another time so that she could shop the boutique herself. Although apprehensive, she did agree to these terms, and we were able to completely turn her mood around. Not only did we find her a flattering outfit, we found her five! She was smiling ear to ear by the time she left. She almost forgot the bag she selected, and when I went to run it out to her car, she grabbed me and gave me the biggest and most genuine hug. She thanked me for pushing her outside her comfort zone and allowing us to help her, to see herself in a new light and to lower her walls. I still feel all glowy inside when I think of that moment.

Q: How has Besa impacted you?

A: Besa has given me an immeasurable gift in providing the opportunity to merge my passion for clothes and fashion and my soul’s desire to give back to women in my community. Besa and Dress are so deeply ingrained in my life and my self-care process now. When I go too long without suiting I can feel it in my bones. A Saturday morning spent there restores my faith and joy in a way that I’m unable to accurately describe. It has given me a network of support and an extended social circle, a greater relationship to my community and a better relationship with myself.

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