She's a familiar figure at Brookhaven Town Hall, but Joyce Rubenstein isn't there to talk politics or attend meetings. Her destination is Dress for Success, where she has volunteered for 13 years and has seen fashion trends come and go -- on the bodies of hundreds of women the nonprofit helps to re-enter the job market.
After she retired in 2000 from her job as a public school speech therapist, Rubenstein of Port Jefferson Station began tackling long-neglected home projects, which included cleaning out the closets. Armed with work clothes she no longer needed, she was hooked the minute she walked into Dress for Success, which was then based in an office complex on Route 112 in Medford.
"I said, hmmm. I looked at the boutique. I like clothes. I like being with people," she recalled. And a volunteer was born.
Since then, every one of her Mondays has been dedicated to sorting clothes donated to the organization and serving as a personal shopper to the job-ready women who need appropriate work clothes for interviews. In between, Rubenstein makes sure the boutique, which features neatly racked suits, skirts, jackets, blouses, shoes and accessories, is clean and organized, so when clients come in for their appointments, appropriate outfits can easily be put together based on the woman's employment needs, tastes and size.
Rubenstein, 69, said she takes great pleasure in putting together ensembles for her clients, but the real satisfaction for her has less to do with fashion and more to do with self-esteem.
"The biggest thing I get out of this is seeing the faces of the women when we suit them," she said. "They come in; most are at the lowest part of their lives. They look around and we treat them like queens or princesses. Some are on the verge of tears. They hug us. They smile. . . . Once fitted, you can see the change in the way they carry themselves in a pair of high heels, with a handbag and jewelry. It's overwhelming."
And that transformative power of a power suit is what has kept her coming back to Dress for Success for so many years.
"I get very upset when Monday is a holiday and we're closed," Rubenstein said. "As long as I'm well and physically able to do the work, I'll keep coming."
SIGN ME UP
Dress for Success Brookhaven is part of a worldwide organization and is located at Town Hall, 1 Independence Hill, in Farmingville. The nonprofit is always looking for volunteers to help out in the boutique or in processing donations, as well as helping out at events. Volunteers are also needed to help with fundraising activities, speaking at meetings of the Professional Women's Group and in the Career Center.
Because of storage issues, only seasonal clothing is accepted. Donation days are Mondays 10:30 a.m-3 p.m. Mondays and 9:30-11:30 a.m. the third Saturday of the month. from 9:30-11:30 a.m. The group accepts clean and current women's business attire (on hangers, please), accessories, handbags and shoes. Larger sizes are always in great need.
To learn more about how to donate or volunteer, contact Nancy Fieldstadt at 631-451-9127 or visit brookhaven.org.
YOU MIGHT CONSIDER ...
The career couture boutique, which opened in June at Suffolk County's One-Stop Employment Center in Hauppauge, offers free career clothing for men and women.
Contact: 631-853-6600; suffolkcountyny.gov/Departments/Labor
The Junior League of Long Island's thrift shop accepts professional clothing for its First Step program, which provides attire for women re-entering the workforce.
Contact: 516-484-0485; jlli.org
For more volunteer information and opportunities, contact the Long Island Volunteer Center at 516-564-5482; longislandvolunteercenter.org