Cary News

Going Places grads celebrate in style as they await their next big break

About 20 people were missing from the stage Wednesday when the Triangle’s Going Places Network held its graduation ceremony. But they had the perfect excuse: They were working.

Going Places is a 10-week mentoring and career development program that helps women identify their strengths and skills so they can land a job. It is run by Dress for Success, a nonprofit that provides work-appropriate clothing to low-income women searching for jobs.

The program stresses mentoring and support – both of which were in great evidence Wednesday. The clapping of the women’s family members was drowned out by the cheers of the women themselves – for their fellow graduates. “Today was the first time we’d met the women of the Durham chapter,” said Raleigh chapter member Jhana-Marie Newkirk of Cary. “So some of the women I was screaming for, I never met – but I still celebrate their success.”

Donning their new suits courtesy of the Dress for Success Boutique, the graduates took turns strutting across the stage to accept a certificate, a rose and a briefcase signifying their completion of the program.

Clad in purple, Newkirk danced across the stage. Newkirk worked for 22 years in the food service industry and is finishing up her degree in business administration while looking for jobs in human resources.

She hasn’t landed a permanent job yet but has found an internship with Wheels for Hope, a nonprofit in Raleigh. “It’s a very different and very competitive environment out there, even with a degree,” Newkirk said. “Dress for Success teaches us how to brand ourselves and just be ourselves, because we’re unique and can’t be replaced.”

Going Places mentor Barbara Best-Nichols of Durham has volunteered with the Durham chapter for the past year after retiring from her job as a librarian for a chemical company. The process starts in the Dress for Success Boutique, she said.

“We raise their self-esteem through clothing,” Best-Nichols said. “It makes a big difference in how you feel.”

Many of the mentors can empathize with falling on hard times and going through a period of self-esteem, Best-Nichols said.

The women are diverse in age, ethnicity and education – some of them have Ph.D.s, while some are still working on their GEDs.

“Many of them have worked in very professional jobs,” Best-Nichols said. “But they all find themselves in the same situation – out of work.”

More than 100 women have graduated from the Going Places program since it started in 2010. Fifty-five percent of the women who complete the program find employment within six months of enrolling, according to Dress for Success. Several of the women graduating Wednesday are switching industries after losing longtime careers.

Dashauna Shuler, 33, of Durham, lost her assistant manager position after five years and is now going to school for a career in medical billing and coding. Shuler credits Dress for Success with helping her move past the catch-22 that every job seeker breaking into a new industry faces. “Every job wants you to have experience, but you can’t get experience unless you have a job,” she said.