Finding Connections in the Greater St. Louis Area

April 01, 2010
By  Jean B MorisseauKuni


Graduates of a recent Pathways to Success program.

Kathy Lambert opened Dress for Success–Midwest, a chapter of Dress for Success Worldwide, in the St. Louis area to help women living in poverty obtain the basic skills and clothes they needed when seeking employment. What she quickly realized was that her clients wanted and deserved more than interview skills and presentable clothing in order to obtain a minimum-wage job.

Kathy listened as her clients shared their stories of being “beat down” by a system that did little to help them move out of poverty. She knew that until these women believed in themselves, they would never become self-sufficient, financially stable and able to provide a better life for their children.

Her desire to help her clients eventually led Kathy and her husband, Brad, to create Connections to Success (CtS), which they co-direct. As the nonprofit has grown, now helping both men and women—many of whom are ex-offenders—CtS’s mission has remained the same: to help clients develop a plan and access the resources they need to become self-sufficient.

The organization offers a variety of programs. At the start, every CtS client goes through an intensive assessment program to help them identify their strengths, weaknesses and desires. CtS staff spend one-on-one time with clients to get to know them as individuals. Their goal is to help clients find their niche, both in CtS programs and in life.

“Everything that we do is addressing our goal of helping our clients to succeed,” Brad said. “We look at every aspect of our clients’ lives in order to guide them into programs that will best benefit them.”

One of those programs is Pathways to Success, which helps ex-offenders adapt to life outside of prison and to re-enter the workforce.

An indicator of the program’s success is the success of its clients. To date, Pathways to Success has helped more than 300 ex-offenders. Kathy said 70 percent of ex-offenders who complete the program receive living-wage job placement versus the national average of 40 percent. The recidivism rate also drops to 16 percent for CtS graduates versus 44 percent nationally, she said. Pathways to Success was chosen as a model program by the U.S. Department of Justice, which said it saves the Bureau of Prisons approximately $3 million dollars annually.

Taxpayers also benefit from other CtS programs that prepare participants for the working world, encourage them to seek higher educational experiences and help them become less reliant on taxpayer-paid programs like Medicaid and subsidized housing. Those programs include:

Professional Women’s Group—Women learn proper business etiquette, dress and skills that will help them succeed at work.

Wheels for Success—This program helps clients obtain a vehicle after they complete their training program. While many of the vehicles are donated, CtS works with local auto dealers to obtain affordable vehicles for clients. “The Wheels for Success program has been instrumental in helping many clients keep their jobs,” Brad said. “It’s just common sense: If you don’t have a way to get to work, you will lose your job.”

Faith and Family Connections—This faith-based mentoring program works with churches throughout the metropolitan area to help clients build positive influences in their lives by surrounding them with people who care about them.

Leading Ladies Leadership—Graduates of the Professional Women’s Group give back to CtS by acting as mentors and leading discussion groups for newcomers.

Both Lamberts say they owe their success to their staff and to their board of directors.

“We want the best and actively seek staff and board members who bring something we need to the table,” Kathy said. “Our board of directors is an intricate part of our organization and not only appreciates but understands our mission.” Using their diversely different backgrounds and talent, board members meet regularly at full board meetings and in smaller committees, providing business and program expertise that support the nonprofit’s mission.

The staff at CtS are hard-working, innovative and caring, Kathy said. That kind of caring allows CtS to help people become productive, tax-paying citizens who can believe in their dreams and in themselves, Kathy said.

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Bridges is a regular review of regional community and economic development issues. Views expressed are not necessarily those of the St. Louis Fed or Federal Reserve System.

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