Jun 212018

Dress for Success volunteers and staff Carly Hart (left to right), summer intern Ruth Samuel, Stephanie Garcia-Bonato and Operations Director Lori Byargeon prepare for the opening of new Dress For Success offices at 1700 Josephine. Hart and Garcia-Bonato volunteered through their employer Athleta. (photo by Danae Columbus for UptownMessenger.com)

Danae Columbus

Danae Columbus, opinion columnist

“I call it my life-changing suit,” exclaimed IT professional Cheryl Butler, 2017 Dress for Success New Orleans Client of the Year. Since 1997 Dress for Success has been empowering women – including more than 400 New Orleanians each year — to achieve economic independence. Founded by Nancy Lublin, the global non-profit provides professional attire for low-income women as well as provides professional networking, job search and interview skills.

As the agency prepares to move to larger, more-centrally located facilities, DFS New Orleans is holding an inventory reduction sale today through Saturday at 6117 Magazine. Shopping hours are from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m.

Dress For Success started in New York and has grown to 150 cities and 30 countries, according to DFS New Orleans Operations Director Lori Byargeon. “Women are referred to DFS by a number of agencies in the community including Job 1 and Bridge House/Grace House. “Our goal is to give a woman the tools she needs to get and keep a job. Those services include our Career Center where clients can learn everything from resume preparation, how to conduct themselves during an interview and even what to wear,” said Byargeon. “After employment begins we provide monthly networking sessions with speakers that help our client’s network and develop important relationships with like-minded professional women to build a sense of community.”

When Catherine Madere was referred to DFS from Grace House, she wanted to take her life in a different direction. Although the Madere family had been in Louisiana since the early 1700’s, Catherine needed a new start. “My interview suit reminded me that I could be beautiful. The DFS team lifted me up and helped me every step of the way,” she said. The volunteer coordinator at Longvue House and Gardens, Madere was named 2016 DFSNO Client of the Year and joined the DFSNO board in 2017. Madere recently resigned from the DFS board to serve as the agency’s part-time grant writer. In addition, Grace House named her Alumni of the Year. “Without DFS I wouldn’t have had the courage to build a new and better professional life for myself. DFS is such an important organization. It is essential for me to give back,” Madere concluded.

“Getting the suit from DFS boosted my confidence and made me feel classy. I knew I could succeed,” said Butler, who now works for Strategic Staffing Solutions. “The Professional Women’s Group also taught me financial literacy, life skills, and work/life balance. DFS definitely changed my station in life,” Butler continued. Butler is the New Orleans delegate to DFS’s world-wide summit. “I want to bring back leadership skills that I can display right here in New Orleans. I believe in the three C’s of life: choices, chances and changes. You must make a choice to take a chance or your life will never change.”


LaToya Cantrell and Felicia Kahn at the opening of the Hillary Clinton headquarters in the 2016 campaign. (photo by Danae Columbus for UptownMessenger.com)

It is with great sadness that we reflect upon the passing of Felicia Kahn who was a pivotal player in the women’s movement in New Orleans for decades. She will always live in our memories as a woman of strength, courage and commitment.


When New Orleans’ most powerful female elected official addresses the first graduating class of Emerge Louisiana Saturday night at the Eiffel Society, Mayor LaToya Cantrell will be speaking to women who share her same dream. Emerge Louisiana is the premiere Democratic women’s political training organization which inspires women to run and hones their skills to succeed.

Sixty women applied to join the first class. Nine of the initial 25 participants accepted were from New Orleans. Local graduates include Lisa Diggs, Nandi Campbell, Aylin Maklansky, Tammy Savoie, Victoria Coy, Christy Harowski, Tara Richard, and Cherrell Simms Taplin. Akin to an executive MBA program, the six-month training required attendance at six weekend sessions held in cities across Louisiana. “Being part of Emerge was a real commitment of time away from work and family but it was worth it,” said Maklansky, who ran unsuccessfully for the New Orleans City Council earlier this year. “I learned a lot about incredible Louisiana women activists who are making a difference in their communities and doing their work for the greater good rather than personal ego gratification,” Maklansky continued.

“Women are no longer willing to stand on the sidelines politically. When we look at the types of decisions being made in our State, it’s clear that women can help heal the divisions by being more interested in compromises that get the best results for as many people as possible,” she said.

“The launch of Emerge Louisiana could not have come at a better time,” said Diggs. “The state lacks women leadership in the legislature and that must change. Emerge assembled an excellent curriculum tailed to prepare women to run and win. I know my experience with Emerge will ultimately define my next political move.”


GOP congressional candidate Josh Guillory, who is challenging U.S. Rep. Clay Higgins, is a lucky guy. He hired Louisiana GOP fundraiser Jennifer LeBlanc, who is of late former NYC mayor Rudy Giuliani’s main squeeze. Politico reported yesterday that Giuliani is supporting Guillory’s candidacy. Guillory is primed to take full advantage of the endorsement and might even tease the idea that President Trump will also throw his support to Guillory. National media reported last week that Giuliani planned to visit Louisiana again soon.

Danae Columbus, who has had a 30-year career in politics and public relations, offers her opinions on Thursdays. Her career includes stints at City Hall, the Dock Board and the Orleans Parish School Board and former clients such as District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro, City Council members Stacy Head and Jared Brossett, City Councilwoman-elect Helena Moreno, Foster Campbell, Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, former Sheriff Charles Foti and former Councilwoman Cynthia Hedge-Morrell.

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