Mary Ann Olivetti-Iezzi has spent the past decade empowering the women of Northeast Pennsylvania one suit at a time.
Clients of Dress for Success Lackawanna, however, get more than just a great outfit.
As executive director of the nonprofit organization, Iezzi and a dedicated team of staff and volunteers have done their part to help women achieve economic independence by providing a network of support, professional attire and tools. It all helps women develop their job search, interviewing and employment skills so they can thrive in their professional and personal lives.
“Clothes are just the beginning,” said Iezzi, who lives in Dunmore with her husband, Mark, and three sons, Justin, Evan and Shawn. “We offer an array of services that take these women past that initial interview and into their careers. It makes a long-term impact for them, and we’re there to walk beside them and … continue to help them with whatever they need to move forward.”
The program — which serves women from not only Lackawanna County but also Monroe, Pike, Susquehanna, Wayne and Wyoming counties — has changed a lot since Iezzi took over in 2010. The nonprofit has moved a few times, including most recently from a space on North Seventh Avenue in Scranton to the Marketplace at Steamtown, 300 Lackawanna Ave., Scranton, where it settled last June.
It also has shifted focus from just clothing to a full-service experience to help clients thrive. These include programs such as resume and cover letter assistance, mock interviews and one-on-one coaching.
“Everyone knows us for the clothes, and that’s great, but we’re moving into a space of workforce development. … We’re always growing to adapt to our client and what she needs,” Iezzi said. “We want to make sure we’re providing her with what she needs, and that meant expanding our services.”
Iezzi wasn’t looking for a specific job when she landed what would become a decade-long career. After the small business she owned with her sister-in-law closed in 2010, Iezzi started polishing her resume and applying for jobs through CareerLink. One day, Iezzi called CareerLink after finding its online portal wasn’t working, and she was connected to someone who caught a glimpse of her resume.
“She said, ‘I think I have the perfect job for you,’” Iezzi recalled. “The rest is history. It really was just a matter of talking to the right person at the right time, and it was kind of surreal. I couldn’t imagine my life any differently now, though.”
Like most nonprofits, the last several months have challenged Dress for Success Lackawanna, which had to cancel two of its largest fundraisers. But it has continued operating throughout it all, adapting to serve the community in the pandemic world. In addition to creating a new website to specifically offer virtual resources to clients searching for jobs during the pandemic, it has switched to offering remote services. These include programs such as resume and cover letter assistance, mock interviews and one-on-one coaching. Dress for Success Lackawanna also has modified its guidance to include advice for clients doing virtual interviews.
The nonprofit accepts clothing donations by appointment only and put in place new protocols to ensure ultimate safety. Image consultants then work one-on-one with a client to select professional attire. While it always can use clothing donations, monetary donations are imperative so Iezzi, the staff and volunteers can continue their mission.
“Monetary support helps us to keep our doors open,” she said. “It helps us to continue to grow and adapt and provide the kind of support the women in our community need.”
Something that hasn’t changed throughout the pandemic is the dedication of the staff and volunteers. Iezzi stressed that it’s important image consultants provide each client with an individualized experience.
“You want to know that if you’re coming in here for services, no one is going to judge you or make you uncomfortable,” she said. “Our clients’ dignity and trust in us is always the most important part, and our (staff and volunteers) have this amazing ability to make clients feel at ease and know they’re in good hands. … I really can’t say enough about them.”
Clients hold a special place in Iezzi’s heart, too, as she sees their success stories every day. Some women who land a job thanks to Dress for Success can’t wait to share the good news, and others who used the nonprofit’s services to get back on their feet years ago keep in touch with Iezzi, updating her on their success.
The resilience she witnesses each day makes her excited to come to work. There’s also a humbling aspect to it that’s made Iezzi see the world in a different light.
“I say it all the time, but we’re all just one paycheck, one medical bill or one accident away from being in the same position. It can happen to anyone,” she said. “We’re here for them, and we’re in their corner to help them. … It’s amazing because it’s really the little things that end up making the biggest impact.”
From transportation to child care, Dress for Success’ clients face more barriers than ever before, Iezzi said. Still, clients always inspire her. Something positive that came out of the pandemic, she said, is the number of women who reached out to Dress for Success on their own. Though partner nonprofit programs refer most clients, the pandemic disrupted some of those other services over the past few months. Iezzi saw this as a way that Dress for Success could reach women it previously might have missed. Iezzi, her staff and volunteers want to let as many women as possible know about the program’s services and, hopefully, help all of them reach their full potential.
“That’s who we are and what we’re here for,” Iezzi said. “To do what we can to better the community and help these women be successful and thrive. Every woman deserves a chance to thrive.”
Gia Mazur is an award-winning staff writer and beauty obsessive who joined The Times-Tribune’s Lifestyles department in 2015. She’s a product enthusiast who can’t live without an eyelash curler. A proud Virgo, Charlotte Tilbury Matte Revolution Lipstick in Pillow Talk is her go-to. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; 570-348-9127; @gmazurTT