MIAMI — Glamour met good will in a charity event graced by the presence of singer, actress and working mother Vanessa Williams, star of the hit TV show, “Ugly Betty.”
Williams, spokeswoman for Botox Cosmetic and Dress for Success, joined the two organizations to celebrate the spirit of giving back at downtown Miami’s chic Epic Hotel.
Over 350 people attended the affair on Tuesday, Oct. 6, gaining entrance to the free event by donating a nearly new professional outfit or by making a monetary donation.
Express Success is the national campaign partnering with Allergan, Inc. – developer of the popular Botox Cosmetic skin treatment that millions of women use – and
Dress for Success, the New York-based non-profit that provides practically new suits to disadvantaged women looking to enter the workforce.
The local affiliate, Dress for Success Miami is an offshoot of Suited for Success, founded in 1994 by Sonia Jacobson.
Sharing the platform with Williams were New York dermatologist Doris Day and Dress for Success’ CEO Joi Gordon, who was on hand to talk about the difference a good suit can make in a woman’s life. The former New York prosecutor said, “Wearing a suit every single day…made me stand taller.”
And while helping women look the part plays a key role in their ability to get the job, Gordon said the organization has expanded its services to help women to keep the job.
“How do we keep her employed? How do we grow her into a leader?” Gordon asked as she explained Dress for Success’ employment retention efforts.
The group helps women who may be transitioning from public assistance or other nonprofessional employment experiences to gain the confidence and skills necessary for a long-term professional career.
Gordon, who has headed the organization for the past 12 years, said she was drawn to the position after seeing a news segment about the organization’s work.
Helping women who “walked in with their heads down, walk out with their heads up,” is a highlight of her job, Gordon shared.
Under her leadership, the organization has expanded to more than 80 affiliates in the U.S., New Zealand, Canada, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom. Domestically, Dress for Success’ star power has also expanded over the years. Cosmetics maven Bobbi Brown is a board member, and the program receives 100 percent of the proceeds from the sale of a scarf and tie designed by Tommy Hilfiger.
Of the more than 500,000 women that Dress for Success has helped since it began in 1997, roughly 70 percent of the organization’s clients are single mothers, a fact that Gordon said is significant because when mothers become self-sufficient, they teach their children to follow suit.
The organization has the staunch support of prominent single mothers like Williams, who Gordon said “regularly cleans out her closets and gives her clothes to us.”
While Williams’ work is far more glamorous than the everyday mother’s, the mother of four said she faces the same work/life balance issues that all working moms encounter.
“It ain’t easy and we know that,” said the stunningly beautiful former Miss America, 46, who uses Botox to help maintain her appearance.
Responding to an audience question regarding how she manages family life in the world of show business, Williams said she checks her children’s school calendar early in the year and alerts her management to plan around important school events.
Having a strong support system is also helpful, she said, adding that having her mother nearby, (her mother still lives in the actress’ childhood home) is essential.
“I live in my hometown. My kids go to the same schools that I went to so I know the teachers,” said Williams’ who grew up in New York.
Striking a more poignant tone in response to a question about overcoming adversity, Williams said she has learned that in order to heal the pain, you must feel the pain.
She cautioned the audience that pain will continue to show up in your life, “If you don’t feel the pain and keep running away from it.”
Williams is no stranger to adversity, or to overcoming it.
In 1983, she became the first black Miss America. She surrendered the title in July 1984 after Penthouse magazine published nude, sexually explicit photographs of her taken several years earlier.
Yet over her career, Williams has sold more than 4 million albums, has won critical praise for her performances on Broadway, has made dozens of TV appearances, and has starred in several movies.
She has won a Tony, received two NAACP Image Awards and nine Grammy nominations.
Noting that opportunity, gratitude and humor also factor into her ability to overcome obstacles, Williams said, “I’ve learned from growing up that you take each day as it comes. This will pass. The dust will settle.”
Photo: Vanessa Williams