This month's All About HER Blog was written by longtime supporter and friend of Dress for Success Cincinnati, Jackie Reau.
Theirs was a lifelong friendship: one where they shared their big hearts with others in need and a commitment to do good. I don’t think I ever heard Mary Ivers or Georgine Wolohan whisper the words, “Pay it Forward” but it was how they lived their lives.
In this case, the “Pay it Forward” plan was the start of Dress for Success Cincinnati.
I have had the honor of being involved with Dress for Success Cincinnati since Mary Ivers opened the doors in 1999. The kind folks from DFS asked me to write my thoughts in celebration of National Women’s Month, so I immediately thought of Mare and George and wanted to share their story.
My invitation to the first event was provided by Georgine Wolohan, an FOM (Friend of Mary) and initial board member of the start-up charity. The first Dress for Success location was an intimate space loaded with new Ferragamo loafers and new blue suits for clients donated by Saks Fifth Avenue on Fourth and Race above a former Frisch’s Big Boy restaurant.
Mary and Georgine were running buddies since their days at Mount St. Joseph University.
And Georgine and Mary were my first Cincinnati mentors. How lucky was I?
I first met Georgine when she was on the hiring committee at the Cincinnati Art Museum, where I was interviewing for Director of Marketing. After I was hired, she became my board liaison and cultural Sherpa. I was a dutiful student on many of her tours as a museum docent.
Now that you have the back story, allow me to share a few stories on how damn smart Mary and Georgine were.
As you know, Dress for Success’s business model depends on donations of professional clothing from the community to serve the clients as they prepare for new employment opportunities.
Sometimes the donated clothing isn’t suitable as business attire so Mary found herself donating her own donated assets to local churches, not a prudent business move for the mission.
Mary had a great business mind and, so she created a second business using these clothing assets, and launched what was then the Fourth Street Boutique, now known as Portaluca.
The best part of the boutique’s start-up success was that it was backed by Yale University’s Business School and Goldman Sachs. In the alumni magazine, Mary had read about a new business competition for non-profits that Yale was holding. Mary applied and was accepted into the program at Yale.
For about six months, Mary, Georgine and I worked on the business plan with Yale professors and business students. At the end, we, along with 24 other charities across the United States, were invited to New York City to present our business plan to the Dean of Yale’s Business School and the Chairman of Goldman Sachs. And in Cincinnati fashion, the interim CFO of Yale was also on the panel. At that time, it was Mr. John Pepper, former CEO of P&G.
No pressure there.
Mary nailed the presentation earning $25,000 in start-up funds for the boutique, a gift from Goldman Sachs.
Mary knew sustainable revenue through a variety of resources would be needed to ensure Dress for Success’s long-term viability.
In another, first-to-market move, Mary signed up for the (at the time, revolutionary fund-raising program) Raising More Money. It’s the one where the non-profit holds a one hour, mission driven breakfast and asks attendees to pledge a three-year financial commitment. Mary, Georgine, Deni Tato (a long-time supporter of Dress for Success) and I flew to Pasadena for one of the first Raising More Money workshops. It was an opportunity for us to think about the vision of Dress for Success and how we were going to fund-raise to support the organization and its clients.
That first breakfast at the Cintas Center welcomed 300 guests and raised more than $100,000, big bucks, back then and now.
These 300 new donors became extensions of the community Mary had built to support the mission of Dress, from the board, suiting volunteers and advisory board members.
As we pay tribute to important women in our community this month in a salute to National Women’s Month, I want to make sure we don’t forget the important contributions that Mary Ivers and Georgine Wolohan made during their lifetime.