SEABROOK – For Maria Stanfield, mentorship is all about reaching back to support others.
“It’s about passing the baton back to the people who are behind you to empower them with the skills, knowledge, and empowerment necessary to take the next steps,” she said.
That is exactly what she strives to accomplish through My Sister’s Closet of Maryland, the nonprofit she founded in 2014. My Sister’s Closet is a Prince George’s County-based organization that offers disadvantaged women free professional development workshops and business attire.
The project is deeply personal to her. After all, she was once in their shoes.
“When I started my career, I did not have appropriate attire to wear. So, most of my clothing came from thrift stores,” Stanfield said. “I wanted to help women who are in that same position.”
When a woman comes to My Sister’s Closet for assistance, Stanfield gives her a week’s worth of professional clothes. The clients can also participate in various classes, such as resume writing workshops.
She recognizes the value of career and professional development classes for job candidates. Stanfield used to interview applicants at her company and discerned some were well-qualified but lacked the guidance to finesse their resumes and nail the interviews.
“I saw people who had great potential, but needed mentorship and training to get the job,” she said.
Stanfield uses the insight she gained through conducting interviews to help her clients succeed.
Since Stanfield has a day job at the Director of Administration at the Virginia office of Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP, she wakes up at 4 a.m. to attend to her responsibilities for My Sister’s Closet.
She said her desire to help disadvantaged women has “been in me for as long as I’ve known…It’s really more living and working in my passion, and seeing the women come through.”
Stanfield and her approximately 16 volunteers helped about 900 women last year.
She discovered women have varying levels of ability to pursue their careers. When visiting homeless shelters and shelters for victims of domestic violence, she realized that these women are struggling to meet their basic daily wants and needs.
“(People) want to be safe, they want to have their basic needs cared for,” Stanfield said.
Now, in addition to providing assistance related to women’s professional lives, the nonprofit also seeks to help women meet their most basic needs so that they can focus on their careers.
My Sister’s Closet offers “beauty bags” to shelters. These bags include washcloths, towels, personal hygiene products, pillows and blankets.
“They know we’re a resource for personal hygiene,” Stanfield said. “Now, we can service them as the client for candidacy for employment.”
Once these women are on the path to employment, it changes not only their lives but the lives of those around them.
“Particularly for women when they get on their feet, there’s a legacy that begins there,” Stanfield said. “You begin to build a legacy, so when a child has a parent that’s working and successful, and on their own feet, then they have a vision, you’ve changed vision not only of a woman but her family. That’s what keeps me motivated, every successful client.”
In fact, one of these successful clients now serves on the board for My Sister’s Closet.
Stanfield has passed the baton.