About 125 women in the area have been helped by a relatively new nonprofit that many people may have never heard about, The Starting Line.
Created in spring 2017 by a handful of local women, the organization provides women with professional attire, hair and makeup styling, interview and resume skills, and a supportive network of business women so that prospective workers can obtain employment, begin their professional advancement and become economically independent.
“Most of the women that we are helping have either not worked in many years or have never worked,” said Molly Boyles, board of directors president, who also owns Once Again Consignment on North Main Street. “Many of the women are coming into the professional world with little to no experience and no professional clothing.”
The organization works with women referred to them from employment services such as SL Start, Work Connections, Goodwill or the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation; from local universities, schools and churches; or from Reflections & Recovery, the Roswell Homeless Coalition’s women’s shelter or the Roswell Refuge.
In some way, explained Boyles and key volunteer and group founder Pat Walker, the women need to come to them from an organization that has determined that they are seriously searching for employment and could benefit from The Starting Line’s services.
“We want to make sure that the women who come to us are in need for the purpose of finding a job,” said Boyles, “not just for filling their closets.”
But the organization does more than provide shirts, blouses and shoes. Although the group members stress that appearing professional in dress, makeup and hairstyle and with their body language can matter with potential employers — and will refer them to local businesses or volunteers willing to help with all those facets of presentation — the Starting Line volunteers also understand that women need to know how to create a resume, answer interview questions, understand what employers are looking for in their employees, ask the right question themselves of the interviewers and have a knowledge of appropriate pay for the positions. The volunteers, retired and current professionals and business owners, will help women prepare for interviews and will remain in contact with them afterward to offer continued support.
“I would say that at least 80% of the women have found jobs,” said Walker.
The idea was first originated by Rhonda Johnson, a regional director of WESST (Women’s Economic Self-Sufficiency Team), Donna Addkison, former head of a women’s job training group; and local philanthropist and volunteer Dianne Marley. Boyles, Walker and Jacqueline Rodan joined as founders. The women originally wanted to open a local chapter of the international Dress for Success group, but that organization only authorizes chapters with populations of 100,000 or more. Not deterred, they created their own nonprofit under the auspices of St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, with a $5,000 grant from the Women’s Project, part of the United Way of Chaves County.
Current board members and volunteers include Boyles; Walker; Rodan, a Mary Kay consultant; Diane Parsons; SL Start trainer Jo Ann Romero; and Jennifer Whitcamp, owner of Casa Bella Boutique.
Boyles said that while the organization does not have a hard rule against men as either volunteers or clients, so far it has focused on women as organization leads and customers.
Clothing donations have come from both individuals and businesses, and one of the organization’s “closets” is maintained in a donated room at the Occupational Technology Center at Eastern New Mexico University-Roswell. The organization also has formed an affiliation with the Roswell Assistance League Thrift Shop, so that women can arrange to obtain clothing there as well. On some occasions, CATO will provide free clothing. Olympiad Hair Styling also donates free services in some instances, and makeup sessions are provided by Rodan. While makeup might seem frivolous, Boyles said that can be important to many women’s self-confidence and especially to some people when job requirements ban visible tattoos.
The group’s Facebook page has several comments from former clients thanking them for the clothing, as well the interview preparation and confidence-building. “I would like to thank you for the opportunity to get prepared for a job. You are motivating …” said one poster.
A study conducted by the University of Notre Dame and Northwestern University and published in January 2019 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that women who networked regularly with a “female-centric” inner circle, or two or three women, had significantly better job placement rates, especially in higher-level positions, than those who relied on male-dominated networks. According to a Notre Dame website, that study concerned women and men business school graduate students, but other published studies also have indicated that women do better with different types of business networking than men, often preferring women-to-women connections.
More information about The Starting Line is available on its Facebook page or by contacting the organization at 575-347-1407, email@example.com.
Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 311, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.