I was born into a very large family, the seventh of eight children in a home that included my parents, my five brothers, two sisters, my grandparents and my great Aunt. My Father worked 3 jobs to keep food on the table and clothes on our backs. My mother was a stay at home mom.
We were fortunate to grow up in the Rockaways, right near the beach. My father used to call it the biggest playground in the world. It wasn’t until I started school did I realize we were poor. Wearing hand me down clothes that were either too big or too small, and socks and undies with no elastic, made me feel different than my classmates.
I began working at the age of fourteen, spending all my money on clothes and shoes so I could be like the other kids.
While still in high school, my mom, after years of alcohol abuse, had a stroke. Though she survived, she was left disabled. Since most of my siblings had married and moved out, it was up to me to take care of the house, laundry, groceries, meals and chauffer my younger sister, while still attending school and keeping my part time job. During those years my support system usually came from my older siblings when they were around. My mom remained distant and my dad was too tired or busy.
I graduated high school and attended college for one year, before leaving school to start a job as a bank teller. Around this time, my Dad became ill with meningitis and spent fourteen months in the hospital. He would never be the same; by the time he was discharged, dementia set in. Some days he didn’t even know my name.
I worked in banking for fourteen years, in which time many life changes took place. I married my first husband, who turned out to be unfaithful and abusive. At the age of twenty-five I divorced him and at the age of twenty-eight I married my second husband, Frank. I continued to work at the bank, eventually leaving when I became pregnant with our first child. Over the next eight years I was fortunate to be a stay at home mom. I had two more children, and when my youngest was two, my husband was fired from his job due to excessive drinking. This left me with no other choice but to enter the workforce to support my family. I found a job with the Board of Education, working as a Para/Teachers assistant. I worked with disabled young adults lifting them in and out of wheelchairs daily.
(Maureen telling her story at the 2017 Women Helping Women event)
After two years of working, my husband, who had gotten his job back, was diagnosed with cancer. He survived two years with chemo. Frank died in 1999.
At forty-two I found myself a widow with three children and a mortgage that I could not afford. There was no life insurance. Working with the Board of Education became my life line. It gave me the opportunity to be home with my children after school and on holidays, plus I received benefits to help care with the raising of 3 children. But that monthly mortgage payment was too much. After a year I sold our home and moved to a small bungalow a few miles away. It was one of the greatest things I did.
I stayed with the Board of Ed for 12 years, until I herniated 3 discs in my back lifting children in and out of wheelchairs. I had back surgery and was placed on disability. Again, I struggled to make ends meet.
The following year, I enrolled in Kingsborough Community College Adult Education Program. I was in class at night and babysat for neighbors during the day. Once I had completed the courses, I begin searching for a job.
I put together a resume and started applying to job postings I found on Craigslist. It was recommended that I attend a Job Fair; because I had never attended one, I was extremely nervous.
The Job fair was held at Peninsula Hospital Adult Rehabilitation Center. There were various businesses in attendance, from Adult Rehabilitation Centers to Airlines. I left my resume with those I felt might have office work for me. During my stroll around the room, I noticed the Dress for Success table.
Dress for Success had the longest line. The woman greeting everyone said to each person, “Hi I’m Ky Shabazz. I do not have a job for you, but let’s see if I can help.” I waited my turn, and so began my journey with Dress for success.
Ky invited me to come to the DFS office on Jamaica Avenue the next day. We spoke at length and she informed about the Breakfast Club. I agreed to attend and commit to 8 weeks. We scheduled my first suiting. And although I had previously looked at suits in Macy’s, I was unable to afford one and had never owned an actual suit; I was very excited.
My first suit from Dress for Success was just like the one I liked in Macy’s. It fit so well; I thought I looked every bit the business woman. It completely boosted my confidence. I’d like to say that it still fits, but time has added a few pounds. But that suit still hangs in my closet to remind me to never give up hope.
I continued to work with Dress for Success, working on my resume and elevator pitch, attending Mock Interviews. And every now and then I would have a job interview, but no job offers. While not receiving a job offer sometimes left me feeling inadequate, I realized that getting an interview in the first place was a long shot. So, I used each interview as something of a practice and after each interview, I would critique myself to see how I could improve the next time.
Shortly after starting with Dress for Success, my daughter, who was 15, became ill. She had contracted Mononucleosis. It was a severe strain and for the next 6 months she was on bedrest and was homeschooled. That June after she sat for her Regents exams, she had surgery to remove a cyst on her spleen. She started to hemorrhage on the operating table and her spleen was removed. Three months after her surgery, I got a job at The Brooklyn Hospital in the Medical Records Dept. as an Office Manager and Directors Assistant. As the first person hired for this position, I made it my own.
A year after starting my job with the hospital, disaster struck again, this time in the form of Hurricane Sandy. My home was destroyed. I spent the next several months rebuilding my life and home, which was left unlivable. And while in the midst of this rebuilding, I was laid off the Friday before Christmas.
After the 2014 New Year, I applied for unemployment benefits and contacted Dress for Success. Ky answered the phone, and said “Come on in.” She informed me there was a new program called “Going Places Network.” I signed up that day and started the program a few weeks later. This new program took The Breakfast Club to a New Level.
Attending the meetings with Dress for Success changed my life. My attitude of being unsure, unworthy, not good enough changed to one of, “I can and why not me!” My confidence soared. I knew that if I followed the recommendations given to me, I would succeed. During the next six months, I applied to jobs and went on interviews, but nothing stuck. When my last unemployment payment was deposited, I was worried. The next day I had an interview and was offered a job. I started the next week.
Now, let me back up for a moment; over years of job searching, I had compiled a list of things I would never do:
I would never be a receptionist.
I would never work a temp job.
I would never work without benefits.
I would never work for less than a certain amount of pay.
The day I accepted the job offer, I said yes to a job as a receptionist, for a temp agency, with no benefits, for less money than I had been paid in a while.
My justification for the position was it was across the street from my house, only 200 feet away. At that moment, it was the best move for me after all the curve balls life had thrown my way.
At the end of 2015, a new organization took over managing the program I was employed at, which redeveloped neighborhoods affected by Hurricane Sandy, and I was fortunate to be accepted into the new team that would move forward with assisting home owners after the devastation.
I am currently a liaison between contractors and homeowners, just as Dress for Success served as liaison between my success and skillset.
I take pride in my work and am grateful to earn a living by doing something that feeds my spirit. I face each day courageously, hearing the voices of Dress for Success staff over the years telling me, “You got this.” I stand before you today, saying. “I’ve got this.” I’ve got this because I have the confidence to have this, and I know any burden to success can be met by a positive attitude, flexibility, and the support of Dress for Success.
I have learned that in every adversity lies a silver lining: when my second husband passed away, I sold my home and bought a more affordable house. I raised my children in this home and I still live in this home. My children made lifelong friends of the neighborhood children. In fact, my son married the girl next door; they now have a home in the neighborhood, three children, a dog, and another baby on the way. Would this have happened had my husband never passed and we never moved?
In all of life’s seasons there is a hopeful prospect; in every storm there is a break in the clouds. And that is just what Dress for Success has been for me—a steady comfort companion, pushing me to be my best self in all times, giving me the support and tools needed to truly succeed.