"The impact of the grant was dramatic for us..."

The thought of a woman heading into the final chapter of her life lonely, in poverty and with little hope, moves Regina Haddock to action every single day. “More than 30 percent of women between the ages of 65 and 75 fall into extreme poverty,” said Haddock, who is the executive director of Dress for Success Quad Cities. “I’m horrified by that. It’s why I’m so passionate about what I do.”

Haddock started Dress for Success Quad Cities in 2011, an organization focused on empowering women to achieve economic independence by providing a network of support, professional attire and development tools to help them thrive in work and life. “We’re part of our community’s response to helping women get a fair shot at a future so they can retire with dignity,” she said.

Dress for Success has three programs, including assistance with attire, career support and a professional women’s networking group. The services are free, but they rely on clothing and monetary donations. Nearly 1,100 women have participated in the program.

“There are systematic barriers for women in poverty, or those coming from challenging circumstances, to attaining a job and keeping it,” Haddock said. “We make it our mission to give them confidence.”

The organization made major strides this winter when it was the recipient of a Quad Cities Community Foundation Challenge Grant, which challenged Dress for Success to raise $10,000 by December 31. They not only met the challenge, but raised almost $400,000 in cash and in-kind support last year. Haddock said the organization merged the Challenge Grant with their fall One Night One Mission (ONOM) event that invites supporters to host a fun party or some type of event to raise funds.

The Challenge Grants awarded by the Community Foundation were made possible thanks to the Community Impact Fund, an endowment that community members make gifts to that allow the Community Foundation to address the region's most important needs and opportunities. 

Donors were more inspired to give because of the challenge, and ONOM raised $10,000 more than the previous year. “It is obvious the difference it makes to donors when they find out their dollars will be matched,” she said. “The buzz it created was palpable. People feel better about giving—or giving more.”

Funds raised from the matching grant will help underwrite the cost of serving more of the 720 women projected to need their services annually. “The impact of the match opportunity was dramatic for us, never having had this type of opportunity before,” Haddock said.

The Community Foundation also had a hand in their strong start six years ago, Haddock noted, when they received a grant that provided their first computer, business cards and brochures. The organization now has six part-time staff and 150 volunteers. “Our partners at the Community Foundation are priceless,” she said. “When the moment is right, they say yes. We know that is possible thanks to the generosity of their donors and our Quad Cities community.”

Haddock feels strongly about Dress for Success, and its role in the community, because she experienced some of the same challenges the women face. Haddock once lived in poverty, utilized food stamps and received a Pell grant. She raised a family and eventually went on to earn a master’s degree. “I’m so lucky to pay back the opportunities I’ve had,” she said.

The idea to start a Dress for Success program was born from a family tragedy. Haddock’s sister passed away from a car accident at the age of 32. The sisters were only 15 months apart. Haddock received some of her sister’s personal items, including boxes of professional attire. “I just couldn’t part with them,” she said. “They were a part of her.”

A decade later, Haddock’s children were almost grown, she was divorced and she received a breast cancer diagnosis. “I hit a rough patch and I started thinking, ‘What do I really want from the rest of my life?’” she said. “The cancer diagnosis adds fuel to the desire to live every day to the fullest.” 

That meant helping others, and one of the first things was donating her sister’s clothes. “I had heard of Dress for Success and I knew my sister would feel good about them helping another woman.”

The donation connected her with the organization and she started the Dress for Success Quad Cities location soon after. Haddock hopes that the community understands that Dress for Success is about so much more than clothes. “If a woman comes from domestic violence, or has a criminal record or is in vocational rehab, they’ve struggled to be employed, or they’re bankrupt, her problems don’t go away the moment she gets a job,” Haddock said. “A job is just the beginning.” 

Dress for Success helps with the appropriate attire and builds confidence, and also provides resources to help connect women with things like transportation needs and quality child care. “The question is, will we be able to help the next thousand women and the thousand after that?” she said. “Without partners like the Community Foundation, we won’t be able to.”

You can make a gift to the Community Impact Fund to support organizations in our community who are addressing our most important needs and opportunities. Make a gift online here.

Melanie JonesGrant