Mark Twain once said, “Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society.” Traci Felder ’86 is helping to arm women with the clothes and skills they need to enter or remain in the workforce, to boost their self-esteem by making them feel that they have something to offer, and to ensure that they look sharp for interviews and on the job.
As Director of Dress for Success in Cleveland and Columbus, Traci oversees its office attire and job retention programs for disadvantaged women in the community, raising $575,000 to support Cleveland’s annual budget and directing the $124,000 operational budget in Columbus. Over the last six years, she has more than doubled the number of women assisted by the program, which not only enhances their families’ lives, but also lifts the community by providing a larger pool of qualified workers. Traci and the five other staff members she supervises collect and organize suits, pumps, and accessories that have been donated and purchased. They also spruce up their clients’ interview techniques; workplace savvy; financial literacy; and the life skills needed to juggle work, family, and education to spur career growth.
Dress for Success provides services to more than 1,100 women in Cleveland annually and 500 women in Akron. Corporations, foundations, government agencies, and individuals fund the project.
The alum also raises money from events such as its annual gala The Denim Affair and a golf outing. Her biggest challenge, she notes, is turning clothing donors into financial ones.
The Gilmour graduate earned her bachelor’s degree in organizational communication and a master’s degree in communication and marketing from the University of Hartford. Prior to her current position, she was Executive Director of Make a Wish Foundation’s Northeast Ohio office. Traci began her career as Public Information Officer for the New Cleveland Campaign and was Special Assistant of Special Events and Marketing for Mayor Michael White. A good match for the position she holds, Traci believes that “life is not always fair, but we have the power to change what we believe is wrong.”
Although no one experience can prepare one for a career, Traci says, “Every day there are valuable lessons learned that continually define who you are and prepare you for the next step.” In reflecting on her days at Gilmour, she notes that the Academy “helped me believe that if I worked hard and believed in myself I could succeed in whatever I chose to do.”
Traci and her husband Rick Ritt, who works in the technology sector providing online movie services and mobile phone platforms for the entertainment industry, have a son Max who is almost 2 years old. Their home includes a boutique where Traci sells novel belt buckles that she designs with Swarovski crystal. She even has adapted the design for cell phone covers, compact mirrors, lipstick cases, and PEZ dispensers. The active alum is often featured in the pages of The Plain Dealer, and has appeared in The Chagrin Valley Times, Inside Business, and The Cleveland Jewish News, and she has served as a board member of the worldwide Dress for Success organization. Over the years, Traci has been honored by Cuyahoga County Commissioners and the City of Cleveland, and she won the Pillar Award for community service in 2002.