Disadvantaged women find a lifeline to a better place

By Lara Yamada
Published On: Mar 22 2013 06:16:00 PM HST

It's helped more than 65,000 women worldwide transformtheir lives. Today is the 10-year anniversary for Oahu's Dress for Success program at the YWCA.

HONOLULU -

"What do think about this," asked Dress for Success volunteer Brenda Abe, holding up a green and white silk blouse.

She's working with client and success story, Yvette Hamalian.

"Being suited, seeing myself in the mirror, and realizing that that's me, at first, I didn't believe it," said Hamalian.

Not long ago, she was spiraling downward, through an abusive relationship, incarceration, and drugs.

"When you’re inside trying to get out you don't see it," said Hamalian.

But that was then.

"I saw something in me that sparked a light in me," she said speaking at the YWCA in Honolulu, celebrating the 10th anniversary of Hawaii's Dress for Success program.

Today she is clean and sober.

She is a graduate medical assistant.

And she said she is so grateful for Dress for Success.

"When you put it on, you become confident and you have this potential," she said about the new clothes it's provided for her.

At Friday's event, on the upstairs floor of the YWCA, Gov. Neil Abercrombie proclaimed March 22, 2013 as "Dress for Success Day."

Downstairs, volunteers proudly showed off the new, more than 5,000 square feet space -- six times larger than what they had to work with before.

"The women we're working with are coming from really challenging situations, where presenting themselves is really hard and believing in themselves is hard," said YWCA director of economic advancement Kelaulani Coleman.

"In many cases, it's one woman helping another woman get a second chance," said Dress for Success worldwide CEO Joi Gordon, who flew to Hawaii from New York for the event.

It is not just about the jacket, the shoes, and the jewelry.

It is an entire program to help women move forward in their lives, by learning how to write resumes, network and by helping them get a job.

"When Sheila spoke to me today and said, 'you dressed me and I have a job now,' it really was a very moving moment for me," said volunteer Jo Pruden after reuniting with one of her clients on Friday.

On Oahu, Dress for Success has 25 volunteers.

They held 200 suitings in 2011, but more than doubled that in 2012, with 550 suitings for women in need of professional clothes.

"It's so much better. It’s so much brighter. I love it," said Hamalian of her new path in life.

On the table, sat a card from Hawaii Pacific Health.

"Who just offered me a position with Kapiolani," she said.

It is a woman realizing just how strong she's always been.

"We can do it. We can ultimately become the person we chose to become. It's in us," she said. 

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