As the Director of Workforce Development at Dress for Success Charlotte, Fontella McKyer gives women a safe and encouraging place to go when they’re thrown one of life’s many curveballs. In the seven years she’s been with Dress for Success, she’s made a big difference in the lives of many Charlotte women who have fallen on hard times by helping them get back on their feet and giving them the skills, necessities and confidence they need to get into the workforce and chase their dreams. We are very honored to introduce you to today’s FACE of Charlotte, Fontella McKyer.
Tell us a little about Dress for Success Charlotte and the services provided.
The mission of Dress for Success Charlotte is to empower women to achieve economic independence by providing a network of support, professional attire and development tools to thrive in work and in life. For 17 years, Dress for Success Charlotte has been at the forefront of championing upward mobility for unemployed and underemployed women, providing workforce development services critical to the needs of women in our community. Just last year, 840 women were referred to Dress for Success Charlotte for job preparedness, job acquisition, employment retention, financial education and career advancement programs and services.
What does a typical day look like for you?
In the seven years I have been with Dress for Success, no two days have been the same. Client engagement is an important part of my work and that requires me to know when to slow down and allow others to catch up. I am primarily responsible for the planning, development and implementation of programs strategically focused on a continuum of services in the areas of workforce development, employment retention, financial education, lifelong learning and leadership and civic responsibility — yeah, I know that is a mouth full! I am a planner, so I approach each and every day with my list of tasks, but more often than not, if I am not in a program session, I will receive a call or surprise visit from a client that changes the course of the day. I have learned to not measure my daily accomplishments by the number of boxes checked, but rather our mission and what I have done personally that day to help move a woman closer to her dreams.
What initially drew you to Dress for Success?
My initial introduction to the organization came by way of a former colleague. Prior to applying for my current role, I participated in a volunteer engagement and discovered that the mission of the organization aligned with my values.
Like many of the women we serve, I have also personally experienced the loss of a job along with countless other curveballs of life, but was able to rediscover myself through that process and find my passion. That is the work that happens here at our organization and that was the hook for me.
How has being involved with Dress for Success changed or shaped you?
My involvement with Dress for Success serves as a daily reminder to count my blessings and remember the special people in my life who have helped me become the woman I am today.
We’re sure it can be tough seeing women come in who have hit hard times. How do you encourage them and give them hope to keep going?
It starts by first seeking to understand rather than judge. I tell our clients often that we are one piece of a massive community puzzle, but assure them that we will do what we do best and work alongside them to connect the other pieces. It’s a partnership or, as some of our clients have said, it’s a sisterhood.
Do you ever run into former participants who you helped to get back on their feet? How does that feel?
Absolutely! Chance encounters with former participants is always a rewarding and exciting time for me.
What’s your favorite part of being involved with Dress for Success?
In my role I really get to get up close and personal with our clients and that is definitely something I enjoy. I believe I am working in my purpose. Knowing that I am a part of something so much bigger than myself is something I don’t take lightly.
What’s the toughest part?
Wow, that’s a great question. I believe the toughest part is handling those unique requests that I often receive for assistance with things that don’t necessarily align with our organization’s mission.
What do you hope participants take away from Dress for Success?
My hope for every woman as she enters and leaves our organization is that she recognizes her POWER! Yes, we will equip her with an amazing suit and add some key items to her job search tool belt, but she has to believe she can and she will.
If you could tell every Dress for Success participant one thing, what would it be?
If I could tell the women we come in contact with only one thing it would be that gifts come in unusual packages. Change is inevitable, and it is a gift to be embraced when you can open yourself up to life’s possibilities.
Best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
Remember to always work with integrity. Because when you do so, the ROI (return on investment) will be priceless.
When you’re off the clock, how do you relax and unwind?
I must confess that I am a recovering workaholic. I haven’t mastered this area yet, but I am enjoying rehab. I am learning that it is okay to say no and only do the things that bring me joy. The bottom line is that I am a work in progress.
Favorite thing about Charlotte?
I absolutely love the spring and fall colors.
What’s something people would be surprised to know about you?
My mother is an amazing cook, so people are often surprised to learn that I prepare and cook all our family meals including holiday dinners.
What are three things you can’t live without, excluding faith, family and friends?
I absolutely love good seafood and could have it daily, my Mary Kay skincare products and my designer bags.
To read about more inspiring women in Charlotte, check out our FACES archives.
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