July 22, 2007
By PENELOPE OVERTON, Courant Staff Writer
She has talent, drive and a strong work history, but what 28-year-old Kai Ward really needs to land the job that will underwrite her dreams of becoming an actress is polish - a power suit, an extra bit of oomph to her resume and a bit of interviewing practice.
The Hartford woman walked out of a "Dress to Impress" community forum Saturday with an earful of advice from some of the area's most powerful businesswomen and two armfuls of clothes, handbags and high heels befitting an up-and-coming professional.
"I just need a little help to get my foot in the door and then I'll take care of all the rest," said Ward as she twirled around in a gray suit in front of a bank of mirrors at the Asylum Hill Boys & Girls Club. "It's all about sending the right message."
Ashley DuBois, an ESPN executive helping to outfit Ward Saturday, nodded. The frilly, pink blouse that Ward wore to the forum was pretty, but its gauzy texture made it almost transparent. You want an employer to see your strengths, not your camisole, DuBois said.
Ward was one of only a half-dozen women to attend the forum, but the small group lent itself to the kind of boutique mentoring and outfitting embraced by Dress for Success Hartford and Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc., the event's organizer.
"We want to give women the tools they need to succeed in the workplace," said Lalani Perry, the Delta Sigma Theta alumna who coordinated the event. "We want to give them confidence and direction and courage, to help them help themselves."
This group of mostly college-educated, African American women dedicated to the promotion of human welfare held a regional conference in Hartford over the weekend and, as a way of giving back to the community, donated more than 250 suits to the forum.
The handful of women who attended the event walked out with bags of designer-label suits. The rest will go to My Sister's Place, a battered women's shelter in Hartford, or will be used in the Dress For Success Hartford "boutique" in the Bank of America building downtown.
The two-hour forum was sponsored by Delta Sigma Theta, Dress for Success Hartford, My Sister's Place, Capital Community College and Travelers. Recruiters from Aetna led the resume-building workshop, advising clients on how to address employment lapses and describe their skills.
Dawn Jenkins walked out of the event with two suits, one brand new and one gently used. She is a recovering addict who was recently released from prison, and the outfits are two of the only "presentable" ones the 37-year-old Windsor woman owns, she said.
"I was getting ready to go to church this week and my dad looked at me and said, 'Girl, you better go back inside and put on a dress,' and I said, 'Dad, this is the best I got,'" Jenkins said. "Then my counselor, she told me about this, and it was like a prayer getting answered."
For inspiration, motivation and a few good laughs, the women turned to Myra Rolden, a 37-year-old Milford entrepreneur whose instant, prepackaged eye shadow was featured on a "next big idea" episode of "The Oprah Winfrey Show" this year.
Having gotten pregnant at 18, Rolden describes herself as a teenage statistic, someone who could have easily let her life slide quickly downhill and out of control. But instead, she set goals, got job after job and degree after degree, and now she is living her dream.
"You have to believe in yourself, big time," Rolden told the group. "You can't control others. You have to let that go. You can only control your own life, create your own life. ... In the end, I'll tell you, you have to become the masterpiece of your life."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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