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Dress for Success gets an updated look with new building

Brandishing job-appropriate jackets are Dress for Success volunteers Janet Blanke (left), client services coordinator; Gracie Solomon, donations coordinator; and Cathy Colomo Riojas, executive director. The organization’s new building is at 1620 S. Brownlee. Photo by Jane Kathleen Gregorio

Dress for Success recently moved into new digs as it continues to grow, providing clothes, education and other services to women in the Coastal Bend looking for jobs. At 5,000 square feet, the new location at 1620 S. Brownlee is bigger and closer to its clients than its first home on the Southside.

“To date, we have provided services to 700-plus clients and their families,” said Dress for Success Executive Director Cathy Colomo Riojas. “With the help of one of our board members, we were able to relocate from our former building on Corona Street to a much larger building on Brownlee.”

The move was needed as the 3-year-old service has continued to grow. Since the last time Colomo Riojas was interviewed by Corpus Christi Business News in March 2014, just as the organization was getting started, it has developed relationships with more than 25 referral agencies. The largest are Workforce Solutions, Metro Ministries, Women’s Shelter of South Texas, Goodwill and the Salvation Army.

Another partner with Dress for Success, Professional Women’s Group, provides a retention program that helps clients who find jobs keep them. The Breakfast Club, which also partners with the organization, provides a round-table support group for clients who have been seeking jobs but have not yet been employed.

“Over the last couple of years, we helped over 120 women graduate from our Going Places Network program where clients gain professional skills and build confidence through weekly training sessions, one-on-one career coaching and networking to help accelerate their job searches,” Colomo Riojas told Corpus Christi Business News. “This year, the Junior League transitioned their Cinderella's Closet to our organization, and in March, we helped over 130 high school senior girls not only with prom dresses but also graduation outfits.”

Some of those students enrolled in Dress for Success programs after graduation.

“Not everyone has the luxury of going to college right away,” Colomo Riojas continued. “Those who need to work for themselves or to help their families, we can help them with their résumès and being job ready.”

Clients are referred to the program from high school counselors and community agencies.

The new building provides more than just a larger space to hold the racks of donated clothes. Walking through the halls of the new Dress for Success building, clients, volunteers and visitors will find framed art with motivational quotes, a beauty salon with shelves of cosmetics and beauty products, fitting rooms, shoes, accessories, business apparel, undergarments and a new section for prom gowns and formal wear. The reception area offers free coffee and a place to sit and relax. Together, it all creates an inspiring, boutique-like atmosphere.

In 2018, the organization plans to launch a Mobile Boutique Service to help clients in rural areas and outlying communities who are unable to use public transportation.

“Last year, the RTA donated a retired bus to us, which I jokingly call “Big Bertha,” Colomo Riojas said. “The RTA, Apollo Towing and Fast Fleet Services have been very generous letting us park her at their locations.”

What Dress for Success needs now are volunteer mechanics and donations to help renovate and refurbish the bus.

“Other Dress for Success organizations around the country try to come up with creative programs,” Colomo Riojas said. “This is one of our ideas.”

Other ideas include Recycle the Runway, an event launched for the first time this May. According to client services coordinator Janet Blanke, it was a fun way to recycle clothing unsuitable for job interviews.

Dress for Success sold bags of unusable or damaged clothes for $25 a bag to various design individuals or teams who had to use them to create outfits. The results were proudly displayed at a runway event at the Outlets of Corpus Christ in Robstown in May.

“It was so successful that I think it’s going to become an annual thing,” Blanke said.


Dress for Success volunteers help clients put together job-appropriate outfits for interviews and, later, work.

Volunteer and donations coordinator Gracie Saloman enjoys working with the community by helping her clients look their best.

“Here in South Texas, we have a laid-back culture, and people can often forget that their comfortable, casual clothes are not always appropriate for business,” she said, instantly offering tips on picking the perfect ensemble. “The safest color I would suggest when having an interview is black. A standard job interview ‘look’ would be black slacks with a black suit blazer, a conservative blouse underneath, tasteful earrings and makeup, well-groomed hair and proper hygiene.”

Volunteers also work with the women on interview skills and self-confidence.

“We help clients not only look their best but also feel their best,” Blanke said, “which is important when you go out to face the world.”

Other ways to contribute include helping with fundraisers, attending events and giving direct donations.

“We’re volunteer-driven and -based,” Colomo Riojas said. “We depend not only on clothing donations but also monetary donations from grants, public donations, fundraisers, and individual contributions to help us keep our programs going.”

Everything Dress for Success provides for its clients, whether it’s clothes, new undergarments, new toiletries or hair and beauty products, is free.

“It’s everything clients need to feel good inside and look good outside,” Colomo Riojas said.

All of which goes toward helping underemployed women get and keep good jobs.

To volunteer or find out how to make a donation, email or call (361) 232-5226.

You can find out more at the organization’s Facebook page at Like the page for updates on latest events and volunteer needs.

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