MIAMI — Dana Albert Dorsey, Miami’s first African-American millionaire, dedicated his life to helping others.
Today, that legacy continues inside the house he built in 1914 for his second wife, Rebecca.
In July, Dress For Success Miami moved its Success Center into the house at 250 NW 9 St. in Miami’s Overtown neighborhood.
“I looked at the location; I said ‘Yes, we’ll take it,’” said Sonia Jacobson, the organization’s executive director. “We were fortunate to get it. It’s a wonderful location for us.”
Dorsey was born in Quitman, Ga., and came to Miami during the mid-1890s. A carpenter, Dorsey bought land in Overtown, then called Colored Town, built houses, and rented them to blacks.
Dorsey, who died in 1940, once owned the land near Miami Beach that is now Fisher Island. He started a bank and donated land for a library, a school and a park.
“He was a businessman, as well as a community person,” said Timothy Barber, historian, archivist and curator for the Black Archives History and Research Foundation of South Florida.
Long vacant, the house was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1989. The Black Archives renovated it in 1995. But Dorsey House is more than a historic site.
“The key thing for restoration is adaptive reuse,” Barber said. “The building has to generate income to be sustained.”
The Collins Center For Public Policy and the Women’s Alliance used the house for local initiatives.
“It’s become a rental facility,” Barber said.
Dress for Success Miami, an affiliate of Dress For Success International, is the women’s program of Suited For Success, which has provided clothing and job training to 25,000 local men, women and youths since Jacobson co-founded it in 1994.
Jacobson said help includes “the handshake, the eye contact, getting them prepared and then providing the clothing for the interview.”
Training focuses on job-interview techniques, communication skills and business etiquette. Most clients are women ages 18 to 60.
Each client with a job interview is given a business suit. Upon being hired, she receives more work clothes, and joins the organization’s Professional Women’s Group for career development and networking.
Clients must be referred by a community organization. Dress For Success Miami works with more than 70 organizations, including Working Solutions, a job and education assistance program the state of Florida created for women 35 and older.
“They actually came back in to show off the clothes,” said Carol Kahn, job developer for Working Solutions in Miami-Dade and Monroe counties. “They’re very proud of it.”
Terry Howell is a successful Dress for Success client.
“When it was time for me to go in, there was a lady who was doing the initial fitting,” Howell recalled. “She was so….motivating, because I was going through a rough patch at that particular moment. I felt really good about them. Within two or three weeks, I started working.”
Howell worked for a Coral Gables accounting and law firm before going to Freedom Disability, which helps people file disability or Social Security claims.
Starting this month, Howell plans to lead once-a-month meetings of the Professional Women’s Group on Saturdays.
“It will be really great for the women who come for their outfits, about how to get their employment,” she said. Programs will also cover management of stress, health and finances.
“Some of these women don’t have checking or savings accounts,” Howell said. “Or they had them and didn’t know how to manage them carefully.”
The Success Center hosts suit fittings twice a week, and accepts donations of gently worn and new business suits and accessories 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Mondays.
“We’re swamped with clothes,” Jacobson said. Volunteers are needed.
Photo: The Dorsey House in Miami.
IF YOU GO
Dress for Success will host a fundraiser, Dress to Impress II, at 7 p.m. Oct. 24 at the W Hotel, 2201 Collins Ave., Miami Beach.
The fundraiser will include a cocktail reception, informal fashions, a silent and live auction and a sit-down dinner. The cost is $350.
For more about Dress for Success Miami, call 305-444-1944, visit www.dressforsuccess.org/miami, or e-mail email@example.com. For more about the Dorsey House, call the Black Archives at 305-636-2390 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.