Eight years ago, Terry Howell left an abusive relationship with her eight-month-old daughter in tow. She didn’t just leave her relationship—she left behind her home, her belongings, her job, and her friends.
At first, Howell and her daughter sought refuge at a homeless shelter while she rebuilt her life. With years of experience in the legal field under her belt, she was prepared to start looking for a job, but she was not prepared to step into an office for an interview. The shelter made her a suiting appointment at an organization she had never heard of: Dress for Success Miami. She continued searching for job openings as she waited for her appointment day.
Formerly a supervisor at a law firm, Howell started in the industry she knew. On a visit to the state attorney’s office to submit a job application, she heard about a seminar going on downstairs for women on the job hunt, including style tips. Howell was immediately interested and joined in. The organization hosting the event rang a bell: Dress for Success Miami. Sonia Jacobson, Founder and Executive Director, was at the front of the room, and Howell remembers enjoying the training seminar very much.
A few weeks later, Howell went to the Dress for Success Miami office for her appointment. She chatted easily with the volunteer that helped her, and shared her story openly, even though she had not told many of her friends what was going on in her life. She left feeling renewed and encouraged. “What I took away was not only a suit, but also a lot of hope,” says Howell. “I made a decision at that moment, when I started working I would give back.”
She made good on her promise when, within a month of her appointment, she secured a job at a law firm just a few blocks from Dress for Success Miami. She began volunteering on her own time, remembering her own recent predicament and the impact the organization made on her life. Since then, she has volunteered in a variety of ways, from dressing women to public speaking as an ambassador.
Howell, now a disability legal representative certified by the Social Security Administration, is not only an attendee, but is volunteering her time to help coordinate the group and its monthly meetings. Eight years after she first heard of Dress for Success Miami, she is just as passionate about the organization’s mission.
“It’s not only poor women or men that are helped, not only people who had been on drugs or in prison. Everyone can get help,” she says. “You can be a middle class person, but you can lose your job and need to find another job immediately to pay your bills. In those situations, do you use your unemployment check to buy a suit or make your car payment? Dress for Success Miami helps anyone who needs help who can’t have a suit financially. And you’re giving hope along with it. Now, more than ever, I’m excited about helping these women after they’ve received a new suit. Because after all, this isn’t really about a suit is it? It’s about restored faith, restored hope.”
When you retell your story, what emotions begin to rise and where does your mind take you? Gratitude. Gratitude is the emotion that rises to the top. Gratitude for how far I’ve come. Gratitude that the universe decided to give me an opportunity to rewrite my story. Thankfulness that my pain was not in vain.
In your opinion, what in our society fuels abuse? In my opinion, ignorance is one of the factors that fuel these issues. Many of the men and women that are abused or that do the abusing grew up with no good example of who/what they should strive to be like. In my situation, neither of us had our parents around or good role models to feed wisdom into our lives.
How do you empower someone that may perhaps be going through a similar trial or perhaps going through sickness or even parenting struggles? I empower them by showing them they are not alone. They are not alone in their struggle or situation. Many times, a listening ear coupled with a helping hand can make all the difference.
For more of the interview with Terry Howell, order your copy of the April/May issue here.
Photo by Julio Martinez