April is Second Chance Month, and DFSC Board Member Zaria Davis is an incredible advocate for those looking for a second chance to build a future after incarceration. Read Zaria's story of how she went from DFSC client to board member and how she continues to build new opportunities for others below.
I came to Dress for Success Cincinnati in 2017, after my own setback in life. I was in transition after incarceration. Although there was some support in my life, I was challenged with basic needs, including work attire. During this time, I received a referral to Dress for Success Cincinnati and met a staff person who would later be someone I continue to seek support and encouragement from. During my styling appointment for my new job, she invited me to the professional women’s group, EmpowerHER. Unfortunately, at that time I was limited in what I could do and where I could go.
Months later, I ran into her again at church, of all places. She shared about the opportunities that EmpowerHER offers as well as the Dress for Success Worldwide Community Action Plan project, a program where a client of a Dress for Success Affiliate is selected each year to represent the local affiliate at the DFS Worldwide conference as well as host a project locally. I loved the idea of that program and was so excited for the opportunity to get involved with Dress for Success Cincinnati again.
I began attending the EmpowerHER group meetings and met some amazing women. I was able to sign up for a program in partnership with Toastmasters International, a nonprofit organization that teaches public speaking and leadership skills, which really assisted me in my development as a public speaker. I spoke with participants related to speaking opportunities with DFSC and other local groups. As a part of my own journey of re-entering the workforce, I attended a reentry panel that DFSC hosted. It was great information and allowed me to meet and network with so many people.
In 2017, I was named Executive Director of Lincoln Heights Outreach, Inc (LHOI) in the historic Lincoln Heights, OH. The rich history and the love for the community were and continue to be important to me. I served there for two years and was able to develop lasting friendships and community. I continue to volunteer when I am able to be there and will always support the amazing work being done at the organization and within the village.
During this time, I continued to be active with Dress for Success Cincinnati. I was selected as a Fashion Show participant in 2018, which was an amazing experience. It was the first time that I really told my story publicly in front of people that I knew personally and professionally. During this time, I began to network in the criminal legal advocacy spaces. I participated in JustleadershipUSA’s Emerging Leaders Program and attended the FICPFM Conference in Orlando, Florida. I was accepted into the Leading with Conviction program which is a national leadership program for people impacted by the criminal legal system. This opportunity expanded my network even wider.
In 2019, I transitioned from LHOI and began to work for myself as a consultant for nonprofits in the criminal legal field. I started with an organization based in New Orleans that was working on policy related to higher education in prison and for formerly incarcerated people. I was able to advocate in the Capitol for the restoration of the Pell Grant, a grant the federal government provides for students who need assistance paying for college. I also advocated for the removal of question 23, which asks if students have been convicted of a drug law violation, from the Federal Student Aid form/FAFSA. Finally, I advocated ‘Ban the Box’ on college applications, removing the check box that asks if applicants have a criminal record. That experience led me to other roles that allowed me to really build my skills as a leadership development coach and facilitator. I love the opportunity to support leaders in their journey.
I currently serve as a Senior Consultant for nonprofits and businesses through New Direction Coaching & Consulting, LLC. My focus is leadership development facilitation, recruitment of leaders for nonprofits, and coaching. I also enjoy grant writing when I have the time and serve as a reviewer for various states and federally. I am trained in a racial healing circle and want to combine that with my current seminary work to develop a program for leaders.
In addition to my for-profit work, I felt that it was important to continue to support what I am passionate about, which is working with women in reentry. As a result, I launched Filling The Gap Reentry Services in 2019, addressing many of the voids of services in her community for formerly incarcerated women. Filling the Gap serves on the UnlockHigherEd Steering Committee which advocates for the removal of barriers for incarcerated and formerly incarcerated scholars. I also serve on the Ed Trust's Justice Fellows Advisory Board.
I believe that my experience with DFSC and the amazing staff really supported me in getting to this place. I was extremely proud when I was asked to apply to serve on the Board for DFSC. The experience of giving back and supporting the mission of Dress for Success Cincinnati has been so rewarding. I enjoy the opportunity to engage with clients and staff, as I still often participate in programming. It was an even greater honor to receive the Mary Ivers Success Award in 2020. I feel fortunate to have met her and to thank her for her vision for Cincinnati.
As I continue to grow in my personal and professional journey, I am grateful for the experience with everyone involved with Dress for Success Cincinnati. I believe that the dynamic work and impact will continue for years to come. Lisa, the staff, the board, and partners truly care about the mission and vision of the organization as well as the women being served.
To learn more about Filling The Gap Reentry Services, visit this link.
For more information about New Direction Coaching & Consulting, LLC, visit this link.
Learn more about our EmpowerHER program here.