Kathy Lambert, Co-Founder and CEO, opened Dress for Success Midwest in 1998 after reading an article about Dress for Success (DfS), New York. The article explained how DfS provided interview appropriate attire to women in disadvantaged situations, helping them be on the same playing field as other candidates. Understanding the need for this service locally, Kathy opened the first DfS affiliate in the St. Louis region. Here is here story.
Explain how Connections to Success started and how it has evolved over the years into what it is now.
I began my journey in 1998 after reading an article about Dress for Success (DFS) New York. The article explained how the nonprofit DFS provided interview appropriate attire to women in disadvantaged situations, helping them be on the same playing field as other interview candidates. Recognizing the need for this service in my own community, I opened the first DFS affiliate in St. Louis and began suiting women. I soon realized that the women I worked with faced more complex challenges, including the need for reliable transportation to and from work after they landed a job.
To help address this need, my husband, Brad, left his career to start Wheels for Success, a nonprofit dedicated to connecting individuals and families with reliable transportation. In 2001, we joined our two organizations to create Connections to Success (CtS) with the goal of breaking the cycle of poverty and incarceration for the next generation.
Now 20 years later, we’ve grown into a regional nonprofit with sites in Missouri, Illinois and Kansas. Today CtS is nationally recognized as an evidence-based model for improving children’s futures by helping parents gain social capital and achieve economic independence through our holistic program model. The model integrates employment training opportunities, life transformation coaching, job development and ongoing support services to equip participants for long-term success.
To support this long-term success, we offer ongoing mentoring and a Professional Women’s Group and Professional Men’s Group to help participants strengthen and expand their network. The monthly group meetings include an expert speaker, discussion and time for networking.
Over the years, we’ve also developed programs designed to address the unique challenges experienced by justice-involved individuals and their families. In 2018, I had the opportunity to facilitate a pilot program inside a Missouri state correctional center in collaboration with a number of government agencies. So far, we’ve worked with two classes of 15 men each, equipping them with key resources, tools and connections before they reentered their communities. All of the participants in the first class have been released, and 13 of the 15 are now employed and working toward their personal and professional goals. We’re incredibly excited about this work and look forward to supporting more families.
Give a brief description of your job/organization.
As the CEO and Co-Founder of Connections to Success (CtS), my role is to further our mission every day. We inspire families to realize their dreams and achieve economic independence by providing hope, resources and a plan. This takes compassion, innovation and teamwork. As CEO, I provide support to our team of nearly 50 staff members across three states and work with a phenomenal Board of Directors from St. Louis & Kansas City!
I also work to raise awareness about the challenges people face as they try to move out of poverty. For most people, a wage increase is a welcome, empowering event. However, for many households living in poverty (especially single mothers), just a small earnings increase can make their family ineligible for work support benefits like childcare, food and housing assistance. Families who experience this “benefit cliff” face significant challenges and are often further away from economic independence than before the wage increase.
We recognized this challenge early on and have worked all these years to help families navigate benefit cliffs and bridge the gap between entry level wages and a living wage for a family. We began by working with single mothers, but now we focus on the whole family. When parents succeed, they serve as incredible role models for their children and help their children have brighter futures.
I work with extraordinary people every day and have seen women transform their lives and the lives of their families. To honor these women who might not otherwise be recognized, we started an annual awards luncheon called Tribute to Success. Local organizations and companies partner with us to highlight members of their staff and women in the community as honorees. Our major supporters for the St. Louis event include the Impact Group, Emerson, Edward Jones and Southwest Airlines. We also honor women who have participated in our program and our Professional Women’s Group (PWG) who have not only landed jobs, but are doing amazing things for their communities and families and are now giving back as mentors and leaders. Our next Tribute to Success will be March 14, 2019.
We have many ways for people to get involved at CtS – whether as mentors, volunteers or PWG speakers. We share information regularly on our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/ConnectionstoSuccess/.
What do you like to do when you’re not at work?
I love to walk, hike and travel. I like cooking family meals and especially enjoy baking for the holidays. I also love jazz music – my husband and I spend a lot of time on the weekends going to small local venues together.
What other charitable organizations are you involved in and for how long?
I’ve been involved with many wonderful local organizations for a number of years, including Gateway to Dreams, St. Louis Metro Tapestry Network and 100 Women Who Care St. Charles. I also served as a 2017-2018 Mentor for the DeVos Urban Leadership program in St. Louis.
Through Connections to Success, I’ve had the opportunity to collaborate with SIUE, Center for Women in Transition, Let’s Start, Washington University and Grace Hill. I was recently appointed to the Missouri Workforce Development Board and a Statewide Reentry Task Force. I’ve also been involved with Dress for Success Worldwide for 20 years and served as its first board president.
What is your favorite food and restaurant?
My favorite meal is something my grandma would always make at holidays. We would have mashed potatoes, homemade noodles and fresh corn from the garden – true comfort food. I like all different kinds of food and love trying new restaurants.
What is a fun fact most people don’t know about you?
My background is Amish. My parents were both born into Amish families, but they left the Amish way of life when they got married, so I grew up “English”. My grandparents and cousins were Amish, and I spent a lot of time with them while growing up. The Amish are very giving and work together to help others. Their simplicity, servanthood and humble values influenced me greatly and have direct connections to the work that I do.