TULSA, Okla. – Dress for Success Tulsa and Visual Services are helping clients of both organizations, Yessica Romero from Broken Arrow and Marilyn Harris from Tulsa, get nine months of on-the-job experience and paychecks.
Romero and Harris started work on January 29.
Their job duties include stocking clothing in the boutique, helping clients make selections, setting up lunches for “Beyond the Suit” employment training and handling other assignments.
Dress for Success is an international not-for-profit that provides professional clothing, employment training and a support network to help women achieve employment and independence.
As one of only two Dress for Success offices in Oklahoma, the Tulsa affiliate serves jobseekers from Bartlesville to Okmulgee.
Employment is also the primary focus for Visual Services, a division of the Oklahoma Department of Rehabilitation Services, which offers a range of services that helps Oklahomans with visual disabilities go to work.
VS provided career planning and employment services for 1,196 jobseekers who are blind or visually impaired in 2017. Former clients who became employed earned an average of $23,078 per year and paid $3,462 in average annual taxes.
The hours Romero and Harris work enabled Dress for Success Tulsa to open the boutique on Saturday mornings by appointment to accommodate clients’ work schedules.
“Yessica and Marilyn have been a blessing -- a vital addition to our organization,” Katherine Skorvaga, Dress for Success board president, said. “They are paid by DRS, so it’s nice when the community steps in and gives us the ability to help every woman that needs our help.”
Before they went to work there, Romero and Harris both chose professional clothing in the non-profit’s boutique.
“The ladies who come to Dress for Success Tulsa get two interview outfits, including the clothes, shoes, underwear, jewelry, hose, handbags – whatever they need,” Skorvaga explained. “Then they get three more outfits once they get the job, so they end up with a week’s worth of clothes to get them started on their way.”
Simone C. Jones, Visual Services vocational rehabilitation specialist, funds the training and guides and counsels Romero and Harris in preparation for permanent, successful employment.
Romero and Harris attended Visual Services’ Training Adults Program (TAP) which helps people adjust successfully to vision loss and regain independence and the ability to handle daily living tasks.
Harris also attended Visual Services’ Adult Blind Living Evaluation (ABLE) training which develops adaptive skills, confidence and more independence through training on self-advocacy, communication, use of remaining vision, personal and home management, kitchen safety and mobility.
Both women completed Dress for Success Tulsa’s week-long “Beyond the Suit” employment training designed to build confidence and help students strengthen their job search and interview skills.
“The greatest service I learned through Visual Services is to use the cane because I love high heels, but I stopped wearing them,” Romero said enthusiastically. “Now with the cane, I wear my heels because I know where my next step is because the cane tells me.”
“The cane takes the limits off,” Harris agreed.
Originally from El Salvador, Romero is married and has two children, ages seven and 10 years. Her son Jaden, the youngest, also has a vision impairment.
“I was born with vision problems so I never went to school because it’s hard in my country,” she said. “Teachers didn’t want a blind girl in their class, so I never went to school until we moved to Houston when I was eleven.”
“To be honest, I think I’ve been hiding behind the excuse of being blind,” Romero said. “I got involved with the National Federation of the Blind and Visual Services, I discovered that blind is just who I am. … I should embrace myself.”
“I want Jaden to know he can achieve his dreams -- that he can start now instead of waiting 36 years,” Romero said. “I’ve always wanted to go to college and I’m going to.”
Harris, who has glaucoma which damages the optic nerve, was a stay at home mom with five children, now ages 33 to 48.
“It was tough because when my husband passed, there were just a lot of things I didn’t know how to do because I had not been out there and been exposed to a lot of things,” Harris said. “Especially with sight issues, you do make a lot of excuses … but when I came here, I found out I do have some worth.
“I can still go out there in the work force and have a regular life. That’s all I wanted. Nothing extraordinary.
“Dress for Success Tulsa is bringing me out of myself,” Harris added. “It’s good, and I just thank them for giving me the opportunity.”
The current Dress for Success CEO Joi Gordon lived in Oklahoma and attended Bishop Kelley High School in Tulsa and OU Law School before returning to her home state of New York.
“We have more than 168 affiliates in 28 counties,” Skorvaga said. “Joi Gordon’s mom still comes in and volunteers on some Fridays.”
“I came here to Tulsa from Chicago totally lost,” Harris said. “Now I’m finding myself, and I love what I’m seeing. I’m loving all the programs Dress for Success Tulsa has to offer and Visual Services. I could not have done it without them. So both of these organizations are absolute great organizations just to be a part of – that comes from my heart.”