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Wings for Success: Giving more than 8,000 women the opportunity to fly

01/13/2015 11:53AM ● Published by Richard Gaw

In the number crunch data that measures per capita and media household income throughout Pennsylvania, Chester County ranks as the wealthiest of the state's 67 counties, and in a 2007 study, it finished 21st among the more than 3,100 counties in the United States in adjusted gross income.

Yet in all of that prosperity, there exists a cross-section of Chester County that is not only grossly under-served, it is nearly invisible. The population exists in the small spaces where affluence never goes: at bus stops, at food food shelters and in lines for public assistance. These are the women of Chester County, who live hard against domestic abuse, poverty and homelessness. More often than not, they are single mothers with a family to feed and no easy means of cracking the workforce.

In Dickensian terms, it is the tale of two counties, but perhaps the most telling statistic that illustrates these discrepancies is that of the more than 8,000 of these women who have walked through the doors of Wings for Success and been positively impacted since its beginning in Chester County in 1997 -- 63 percent of them have less than a $10,000 yearly income.

By fulfilling its mission to improve the employment opportunities of disadvantaged women by outfitting them with work-appropriate attire, wardrobe and life skills guidance and referrals, Wings for Success -- with one location in Frazer and a second location now open in Kennett Square -- are able to help women transition from hopelessness to hope, while gaining self-esteem and confidence. In the process, they work toward employment and find economic security.

"It's not a lack of skills that these women are burdened with," said Ingrid Lis, program manager for the Kennett location. "It's a lack of confidence and opportunities. For many of our clients, they're here because of a family, personal or an economic situation which necessitates their getting into the workplace. We try to empower them, to give them the confidence they need to reach their goals. We try to bring out the best in them."

For these women, the financial impact of purchasing appropriate clothing to wear for a job interview or a new job is huge. To help ease that stress, a woman using Wings for Success can come into either location and, using the services of a volunteer clothing consultant, select an entirely new and free wardrobe, based on her needs. A perusal of the showroom at the Kennett Square location revealed dresses, suits and blouses by top-name designers, a large selection of handbags and jewelry, as well as dozens of footwear donated by Dansko that are perfect for any office.

Wings For Success can also supply clients with business-casual clothing, medical scrubs, and even work-appropriate maternity clothing.

Moving its second location to Kennett Square enables Wings for Success to accommodate an entirely new demographic of women, said Mary Pat Knauss, president of the Wings for Success board of directors, who pointed to the female Hispanic population in Kennett Square an nearby towns.

"We'd been serving all of Chester County and surrounding counties, but we noticed that transportation is a huge issue for our clients and it's a fairly large county with fairly limited public transportation available," Knauss said. "We knew that there was a population in southern Chester County who needed our services, because it was becoming very difficult for them to get all the way up to Frazer.

"We're using the Kennett Square location as a test to see what kind of client volume we can possibly get," she added. "We picked this as our first expansion site because we think it has the most concentrated volume of under-served women in the county."

Lis said that the most lasting impact of Wings for Success will not be seen in the clothes that women choose to go home with. The organization functions as part of a wheel made of many spokes, functioning along with its connections to other social service agencies throughout Chester County. Further, she said, the conversations clients have with Wings For Success volunteers allow them to articulate their goals.

"Clothes will eventually wear out," Lis said. "The intangibles they take away, however, will last for the rest of their lives."

"At the end of the day, we're trying to help women and their families become self-sufficient," Knauss said. "Women helping women is already a very compelling mission, and when you throw choosing clothes on top of it, it becomes even more fun."

To learn more about Wings for Success, visit www.wingsforsuccess.org.

Its newest location is at 457 Birch Street, Kennett Square, Pa. 19348. To make an appointment or inquire about becoming a volunteer, call 610-444-1446.

To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, e-mail rgaw@chestercounty.com.

Wings for Success Kennett Site Open House

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

4:00 p.m. - 7:00 p.m.

457 Birch Street, Kennett Square, PA  19348



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