In 2019 when Melissa Tenzer, CEO of Dress for Success Central New Jersey, began to work on changing the program’s mission from not only catering to women but also girls, they partnered with schools across Mercer County. They began coming sporadically throughout the Trenton area to help Trenton Central High School (TCHS) students by providing workshops, clothing and even giving out prom dresses during May, but Tenzer wasn’t satisfied.
“(I asked) why don’t we do this on a regular basis. We have so many clothes. We want to come out and we want to be able to be a regular part of the students success. So to me, coming in once a month or once every couple months wasn’t enough,” Tenzer said.
Tenzer met with Crystal Feliciano, who serves as a Finance Teacher at Trenton Central High School, about how Dress for Success can make a difference. Together, they created the idea for a new satellite program.
“When I talked to Melissa, and I was like, listen, here’s the need that we have. Here’s the goal that we’re trying to make,” Feliciano said, “(Tenzer) said yes, she didn’t hesitate. She didn’t pause and say let me think about it. She was like, absolutely.”
Three years later and Dress for Success held its grand opening at its new satellite program at Trenton Central High School with applause, guest speakers, and snacks.
The program is two-fold, focusing on the mind and the body. The first part is physical. In TCHS’ R&B Academy, Dress for Success will have a small shop for students to look through the donated clothing. There they will provide free professional clothing to prepare students for the workforce by getting them to look professional for interviews.
Female students will get the chance to pick out tops, skirts, jackets, slacks and jewelry to have them look their best. The second half of the program prepares them mentally for interviews by creating workshops for TCHS students to attend.
Currently, there are two workshops, Personal Branding and Image Enhancement as well as a Latina Empowerment workshop. The Latina empowerment workshop will be for Latin students to find employment. The Personal Branding and Image Enhancement will focus on creating a positive social media atmosphere.
“We’re just enforcing what they teach in the school and giving them other tools, other outlets to find out what they like to do and apply for the jobs that really fit their personality. So they have to figure out who they are and what they like, and then we sort of cater the program to be able to have them reach the highest potential that they possibly can,” Tenzer said.
This is in line with the R&B Academy, which focuses on students looking to enter the culinary field, marketing field, or finance field.
“Our theme is culinary, marketing and finance,” Matthew Cordonnier, Vice Principal of The R&B Academy, said. “So all communities are set up to be college recruiter ready, but each one has a theme…so our finance kids are running our business center… our marketing classrooms are running our school store, and our culinary ones are running our kitchen.”
Cordonnier explained that this is just another addition to students looking to succeed.
“It just gives us one more way, one more place to help our students, you know, get jobs and or go to college,” Cordonnier said. “My job is to graduate kids, pure and simple. So that they can have choices with what they want to do, whether that be military, career, college, whatever it is. So you know, the better they do, the more choices they will have. And so this is just one way, one more way for them to have choices.”
Feliciano added that it is also about empowering the younger generation to strive for their futures. “You’re talking about self-esteem building. You’re talking about motivation. You’re talking about empowerment self. We’re talking about all that good stuff for these kids right here in the high school,” Feliciano said.
She continues to say that this is another way to build-up students. “We’re looking for more engagement, better comfort levels, more assertiveness. Through the branding and the marketing and the interviewing and everything like that, we’re looking for success. That’s what we’re looking for. Just as the name says Dress for Success. We’re looking for them to dress to be successful, and for them to feel successful. We’re looking for them to be successful,” Feliciano said.
For the Trenton students, they are excited to see the latest opportunity. Truth McClain is a 12th Grader at Trenton Central High School who is excited for her classmates even though she is graduating. “It feels good,” McClain said. “Because it’s feel like a lot of people don’t really have a lot of the things they need to be successful, and they don’t have the resources to be successful. And I feel like it will help a lot of the girls around here in our schools to really like, not only be ready to do something like interviews and things like that, but also empower themselves.”