This summer, I embarked on a extremely meaningful opportunity that unexpectedly came across my path. What is this experience you may ask? It was working for a nonprofit.
The organization I worked for, Dress for Success Boston (DFSB), is a branch of a national 501c3 company that empowers women to self-sufficiency through fashion. As part of their mission, they provide those in need with free business clothes for interviews (which all come from generous donations). Clients – whether they be individuals from homeless shelters, victims of domestic violence or simply women down on their luck – are equipped with all the essentials: a full suit, blouses, skirts, pants, shoes, a handbag and even makeup. Beyond the garments they receive, clients can take advantage of DFSB’s career services, including a women’s professional group as well as resume and cover letter review sessions.
As I followed such honorable pursuits, working for DFSB proved one of my most rewarding experiences to date. Here’s just a few reasons why:
1. I was able to explore my other interests.
To be honest, I initially had reservations about interning for a nonprofit. First, as a journalism major, I was set on working for a magazine. After desperately searching and facing multiple counts of rejection (which left me with the fear of *GASP* not having a summer internship), a friend connected me to the organization. I had come in contact with the boutique before, and while I was wholeheartedly inspired by their objectives, I never imagined myself working at a place that was simply not a publication. I selfishly worried that my talents would “go to waste,” as I would largely be working hands on with clothing rather than a keyboard.
While it wasn’t the placement I always envisioned, I dabbled in some of my other passions aside from writing. Working for the organization affirmed my love for fashion, and its infinite power to strengthen women. There are few feelings greater than helping dress a client who then looks in the mirror and says, “I don’t know how to thank you. I look so beautiful, and I’ve never felt that way before.” Best of all, each client reminded me of the importance of service to others, something I had always loved but had recently been lacking in my life.
2. It reminded me to take nothing for granted.
Each client leaves with a bout of self-assurance, ready to conquer their next interview, and a heart a little less heavy. But what the clients claimed they obtained from DFSB was far less than what I felt they had given me. They reminded me of the gift of gratitude, and truly how much I have to be thankful for. Their sheer sense of appreciation lifted my spirits in a way that made going to work one of the best parts of my day, while their heart-wrenching stories of perseverance I will always carry with me.
3. It reminded me that altruism is an important virtue.
Just as moving as the clients were the staff and volunteers. Although I had worried about the potential discomfort of a generation gap, I was able to connect with a group of women who I actually had a lot in common with. Despite our diverse range of backgrounds, we were united by a love of philanthropy, and their compassion continues to motivate me to this day. The enthusiasm they harbored for their work transferred over to those they worked with, forming a sort of tight knit family. In all my past jobs, I have never entered such a welcoming professional environment. Each morning when I walked into the office, I was greeted by a smile and hello from EVERY single person who was working that day. It was those small moments that made me realize how big their hearts were.
4. It taught me that confidence and self-compassion is key.
As I continued to grow and flourish there, I realized just how strong of a support network I had formed. One of my favorite memories at DFSB was when I told the staff I had an interview for a fall internship at Boston Magazine. On the day of the interview, the volunteer manager jumped up in excitement and assembled my outfit with a quick flourish of her magic touch. Stepping out in some beautiful snake skin pumps, a polished A-line dress and a sleek gray blazer, I was given that extra boost of confidence I needed. I’m convinced that the staff’s encouragement (as well as their flawless collection of shoes) helped me land the job.
And in essence, that’s exactly what DFSB is all about. It’s more than giving women clothes to wear; it’s about providing women with the tools to love themselves and realize that they are talented, strong and beautiful. I could have never gained this inspiration from any other work experience, journalism or not.
So the next time you are contemplating what career path to follow, or simply have extra time to kill, consider volunteering. Find an organization that speaks to you, because in some way, big or small, I guarantee it will change your life – or at the very least give you a new perspective.