Waiting for something to happen just isn’t Charity Justman’s style.
The college student, entrepreneur and mother has more of a make-things-happen attitude.
But, then again, it’s not like she ever really had another choice.
When her parents turned her over to foster care in high school, she worked full-time to save enough money for her own apartment — all while earning her diploma.
When she was 20 years old and living out of her car, she found out she was pregnant with her daughter so she worked until the day she gave birth to save enough money to provide.
When she was let go from her job late last year, she drove straight to Columbus State and signed up for classes.
And when her resilience was tested by her daughter’s father who would do anything to feed his drug addiction, including stalk Charity and physically abuse her and steal from her, she worked with local police to make a plan that put him behind bars.
“my mind is always refocusing” Charity says. “I’m always thinking, ‘how am I going to make it?’”
So, when CHOICES, a domestic violence agency, referred her to Dress for Success last year, she wasted no time getting involved with the Professional Women’s Group and advocating for the organization. Her dedication even earned her the 2013 Woman of Power award.
“What it did for me was create a new identity,” she says, describing how Dress for Success helped her get out of a cycle of being underemployed. “After so many years of trying your hardest and doing well, but it still isn’t good enough, you start to think of yourself as less of an individual.”
Charity said Dress for Success serves as a constant reminder that she is capable of more than she thinks - something that wasn’t easy to admit to herself for years thanks to her abusive ex-boyfriend.
But, he’s not an important part of the story, she says. “I feel like he gets to be the focal point a lot of the time, but, in general, what I’m really overcoming is just trying to get to a different socio-economic status.”
Charity says she’s seen firsthand that unemployment and underemployment perpetuate an environment for women that makes them more likely to live in unsafe neighborhoods, keep questionable company and make poor choices.
“No matter how hard I worked, I couldn’t get ahead,” she says, recalling her own struggles.
But recently, for the first time in her adult life, Charity got a taste of living independently of social services. She credits the accomplishment, in part, to Dress for Success.
Having become astute in navigating social services over the years, Charity says she had always known about Dress for Success, and she even worked to get others she knew referred to the boutique.
She never considered she would be a good candidate, too. After all, she had started profitable bartending and coupon businesses in the past and she never had trouble getting a job and working hard enough to take over a management role in no time.
But as Charity quickly learned, Dress for Success “was not a hand out. It was a hand up,” she says.
“There’s a common theme of being perserverant, dedicated and determined even though all these bad things have happened to them,” she says in admiration of the women she’s joined in the sisterhood.
Charity is currently working toward her bachelor’s degree in social work in hopes of expanding the options available for women and young people in Central Ohio.
She often describes Dress for Success as a bridge that helps women get from one place in their life to another, and she’d like to apply that theory to a transitional living program for teens who age out of the foster care but are still in school and not ready to take on the adult responsibility of working full time.
Being a student again has occasionally led Charity to get caught up in self-pity and doubt, she says, especially when seeing her peers go on spring break trips, drive brand new cars and forgo work to focus on classes, but her Dress for Success support system keeps her grounded.
“They empower you,” she says. “They help you see yourself for who you are.”