Empowering Women Through Education, Apparel and Advocacy: The Wings for Success Story
Wings for Success started as meeting a temporary need working solely with unemployed women and has since grown into an organization that strives for long-term transformation and economic stability in the lives of our clients. As a Chester County based organization, Wings is run by a small staff and supported by hundreds of volunteers. We help those in need overcome great personal obstacles, regain their confidence, and accomplish their goals. We work with all local non-profits that serve vulnerable populations to assist their clients to overcome their economic challenges.
Our Early Years
In 1997 a Philadelphia based non-profit, The Working Wardrobe, had opened a site in Chester County in an effort to help locally unemployed women be equipped for interviews. A small group of their volunteers took that start-up and formed our present day Chester County site, Wings for Success. Partnering with local government and non-profit organizations, Wings original mission was part of the Welfare to Work program, helping women gain financial independence.
The original Wings team contacted local social service agencies and job training programs that were already working with women transitioning to the workforce. Using their own vehicles, they transported clothing to these agencies to help women prepare for interviews and employment.
During that first year, they outfitted several dozen women, formed a Board of Directors, applied for 501(c)(3) status, The Douty Foundation provided our first grant, and with the help of the Chester County Commissioners, signed their first lease at 326 North Walnut Street in West Chester. Also during that first year, Wings held the first community clothing drive sponsored by West Chester University and Parkway Cleaners. By 1998, Wings for Success officially departed from The Working Wardrobe and became incorporated. By our second anniversary, we had already held several Professional Image Workshops, and our first Job Seekers Workshop.
By the turn of the century, Wings had quadrupled the number of women served and found itself in need of professional management. Our first fundraiser was held at the QVC Studios and shortly thereafter, we received our permanent 501(c)(3) designation.
Other significant milestones include:
- In 2008, Wings hired our first Program Manager, Diane Mills
- Moving our West Chester office to the Frazer location in 2009
- Wings received our first Standards of Excellence status with PANO (Pennsylvania Association of Nonprofit Organizations) in 2013, which verifies that we are a well-managed organization
- In 2015, we opened our second site in Kennett Square and hired our second Program Manager, Ingrid Lis
- In 2018, our Workshops and 1:1 Advice Sessions (formerly called Job Seeker Clinics) were redesigned and topics expanded
- In 2019, Wings opened a larger location in Kennett Square, designating a multi-purpose room for community events and workshops
- In 2020, all workshops went virtual and appointments were made according to a clients availability – opening operating hours in the evenings and weekends
- In 2020, we passed serving 1,000 women in 1 year
- In 2021, we saw the addition of three part-time staff positions to keep up with the growth: Volunteer Coordinator, Workshop Coordinator, and Operations Manager
- In 2022, the newest location opened in the Exton Square Mall, doubling our square footage and becoming more accessible to clients relying on public transportation
In our early days, we outfitted women primarily in professional clothing. With the recent move to more business-casual attire, we began filling our well-stocked closet with clothing and accessories appropriate for many types of employment including food service, medical, agriculture and more.
Transforming Women—Both Inside and Out
When a woman walks into our office for the first time, she often arrives feeling unsure and reserved. She may be interviewing for a new position, beginning a new job, or already working, but without the means to purchase appropriate clothing. It is our mission to treat all who walk through our doors with dignity and respect.
During her styling appointment, a client is matched with a personal stylist who asks questions about her likes, dislikes and overall needs. The stylist then searches through our 20,000-item closet to select clothing and accessories specifically for that client. Our closets are stocked with sizes 0 through 5x and are appropriate for everyone – from teenagers to senior citizens.
It’s not unusual during these appointments for the women we serve to lower their guard and open up about their hopes and dreams for the future. We have witnessed tears of joy, tons of smiles and more than a few dances around the office as clients prepare to leave, juggling bags of complete outfits. In addition to providing apparel, we help our clients polish their resumes and practice interviewing skills. Everyone walks out the door with information and direction to other services they may need and with the understanding that our door is always open.
Powered by Our Donors and Volunteers
We couldn’t operate without the support of our gracious donors—individuals and businesses that do everything from stocking our closets and donating auction items to attending fundraising events and providing financial support. Financial support comes by way of one-time donations, recurring gifts, as well as foundation and organizational grants that help us provide a place to serve our clients. No gift—large, small or in-between—ever goes unnoticed or unappreciated by the Wings for Success family.
Wings for Success Today
Led by Executive Director Jill Laufenberg, today Wings has five part-time employees and more than 140 dedicated and active volunteers. Everyone in our organization seeks to welcome and serve every local woman or girl requiring our services. We believe in taking care of short-term needs like clothing, and creating long-term transformation with education and tools for success.
We continue to find ourselves connecting to new communities of women who rely on us to provide them with work-appropriate clothing so that they can start or continue working while freeing up limited financial resources for necessities such as rent, food and childcare. We are the only organization in Chester County providing confidence and empowerment through apparel, advice and advocacy and we always do it without charging a fee.
As long as women continue to put their family’s needs above their own, we will serve them compassionately and support them in their goal to achieve autonomy, confidence and success.