When her alarm rang that fateful April morning, Melanie Rose Alvarez had no idea that the drive she would be embarking on across the country would be the beginning of her journey toward financial freedom.
Like many Americans, Alvarez found herself dissatisfied with her work life balance and yearned for more. She wasn’t alone, as according to a 2019 study by Capital One and The Decision Lab, 77% of respondents feel anxious about their financial situation and 58% say finances control their lives.
That study found that, under the effects of stress, people are worse at saving and budgeting and spend more impulsively — regardless of income or credit score.
Fed up with her incessant financial pressures, Alvarez made the bold choice to break away from her daily grind, wishing to free herself from the grueling cycle of work and bills. With a new nephew born thousands of miles away, she made the choice to put family first. She packed up her East Coast life and headed west, unaware that her nephew wasn’t the only one about to begin a brand new life.
As a veteran, Alvarez faced a unique set of struggles when rejoining the civilian workforce, including finding the appropriate interview clothes to wear. Thankfully, Dress for Success, a nonprofit that helps women achieve economic independence by providing a network of support, skills and professional attire, was there to help.
“I was referred to Dress for Success by The Salvation Army,” Alvarez said. “I had signed up for The Salvation Army’s veteran employment services, and was working hard to find full-time employment. It was tough to be submitting application after application, while trying to understand the nuances and complexities of the modern-day job search, while staying positive and optimistic.”
Founded in 1997, Dress for Success started in a New York City church basement with one humble goal in mind: to empower women to achieve financial independence. Since then, through generous support and partnerships with organizations, Dress for Success has been able to help women like Alvarez find confidence within themselves. The organization has helped over 1.2 million women and operates with 147 affiliates in 25 countries.
As Alvarez continued her tireless search for employment, she turned to Dress for Success for suiting and to gain confidence during the interview process.
“The outfit that I wore to the hiring event came from Dress for Success,” Alvarez said. “Goodwill had all these open positions that they were trying to fill, and managers and directors were interviewing on the spot. I ended up securing a case manager position with Goodwill’s veteran employment team. The offer came less than two weeks after I had interviewed for the position.”
Dress for Success empowers women by supporting them on their journey to achieving financial independence. The organization helps by providing professional attire along with a robust network of support and development tools, enabling women to thrive in both work and in life.
Jennifer Almiron also needed that room to thrive. Her potential lay dormant as she began sleeping away her afternoons, blanketed in distress over the state of her finances. She felt she was stagnating in her life, under-earning at a part time job and not connecting with her family.
“I was drifting away from everything that anchored me to life,” Almiron said “I had a hard time keeping up with my kids and their activities. I was withdrawn, preferring to retreat to my bed instead of engaging with my husband and friends. At the heart of this fog was vagueness with money and debt.”
All of this changed for her after a fateful trip to the Fletcher Square Goodwill Headquarters.
Intent on just buying sweaters for her kids, Almiron ended up finding a lot more than winter wear that day. Inside the building was an employment center which she felt compelled to visit.
“The turn around for me was just going to Goodwill and seeing an employment center at the main gate,” Almiron said. “I just decided, what if? What if I had a real salary?”
It was this decision that would change her life forever, because that was where she was first introduced to the uplifting force that is Dress for Success.
“Once people put their faith in me, I was able to see it improve my life,” Almiron said. “There was a new sense of independence, trust, and responsibility.”
These improvements not only changed Almiron’s life, but the lives of her family as well.
“I am now modeling what it is like to live a full, imaginative, elevated life outside of a job,” Alvarez said. “My kids are seeing me make a living but also have a life.”
How was her experience with Dress for Success? In one word, Alvarez described it as dignified.
These experiences for clients are made possible in part through the resources, support, and guidance from long-term partners like Capital One.
Both organizations believe in empowering people to better manage and understand their finances— making Capital One a natural fit to be the official Financial Empowerment and Sustainability partner of Dress for Success — as it provides critical financial education and tools to clients as well as to the leaders at the helm of local affiliates all across the world.
This partnership led people like Alvarez and Jessica to learn how to create a budget and take control of their spending through Capital One’s signature Dress For Success Financial Education Program. This multi-week financial well-being training is housed at 18 different Capital One Cafés near Dress For Success affiliates in cities across the country.
Those sessions cover topics ranging from budgeting and credit management to an individual’s emotional relationship with money. Café Ambassadors served as training session facilitators, investing hundreds of volunteer hours to inspire confidence and belief in participants across the country.
This partnership has been especially impactful throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, as Capital One has helped Dress for Success shift its programming online to remain accessible and responsive to the women it serves — offering virtual workshops and programs across its Worldwide locations in New York City, Los Angeles and Chicago.
While less than half of Dress For Success’s local affiliates across the country are currently offering the remote services of its Worldwide locations, Capital One is aiding Dress for Success in creating a scalable virtual program to assist with one-on-one coaching while remaining socially distant.
“Our partnership with Dress for Success is meaningful because it’s one that centers around a shared purpose —a commitment to supporting and celebrating women’s achievements in business, entrepreneurship and at home,” Jennifer Windbeck, head of branches and cafés at Capital One, said. “And particularly in this new economic climate, it is imperative that we uplift women on the job hunt, ensuring they are equipped with the necessary tools to adjust and thrive.”
“Capital One helped me bring down thousands of dollars of debt,” Almiron said.
Before Dress for Success, Almiron felt overworked, undervalued and in a fog. Today she is standing in her power as a woman and the architect of her own life.
“It has been an amazing upwards trajectory,” Almiron said.
Alvarez shares this feeling.
“I’m so grateful to have had the opportunity to go through that financial literacy boot camp,” Alvarez said. “I believe that there is a direct link between one’s skill at managing her or his personal finances and that person’s skill to manage a program budget.”
From unemployed in a new town to a successful Goodwill Program Manager managing budgets approaching one million, Dress for Success and Capital One helped to give this veteran the ability to find the power within herself to grow professionally. Today, Alvarez is proud of her career, confident in her professional abilities and free to enjoy the thing in her life that matters most: family.
“For me, for a long long time … peace of mind was elusive when it came to finances,” Alvarez said. “Capital One made that peace of mind attainable.”