Pat Andrews

Former prison official raises women’s profiles — and spirits — with Dress for Success program

“You look like a superstar.”

Pat Andrews raved to Heidi Whitten as Whitten twirled in a new dress, excited about her new job.

Such a wardrobe would’ve cost Whitten hundreds of dollars. It was an expense she couldn’t otherwise afford without Dress for Success, a nonprofit that dresses women in difficult financial situations for job interviews and, ultimately, careers.

But what had Whitten really beaming were the kind words of Andrews, her personal stylist.

“I was having such a bad day until I came in here,” Whitten said as she adjusted her new blazer. “But [Andrews] is just so kind and knows exactly what works. You just leave feeling so ecstatic and vibrant.”

Making people look good and feel good is Andrews’ specialty as a volunteer for Dress for Success. She can’t stop smiling as she helps women that she’s never met before find the right outfit.

Andrews, 61, of Clintonville, worked in correctional facilities most of her life in a variety of roles, including as a social worker at the Columbus Correctional Facility and as a warden for eight years at the Franklin Pre-Release Center and the Ohio Reformatory for Women. In many ways, Andrews said, the backgrounds of the women she worked with during her career are similar to the women who come in for assistance at Dress for Success.

“I have an openness to and sensitivity of the ladies that come here,” she said. “In some ways, I can appreciate what they’ve gone through. It’s not because I walked in those shoes by any means, but I’ve seen the shoes they’ve walked in up close.”

Andrews always had a passion for working with women and for volunteering. She was a mentor for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Ohio, and mentored a girl from age 8 to 18, with whom she is still close.

Following her retirement in 2010, she continued to seek out ways to stay involved in the community. After hosting a French student for three months who piqued her interest in the world of fashion, she heard about Dress for Success.

Since 2014, Andrews has worked twice a week, six hours a day without fail, said Molly Preston, suiting boutique manager at Dress for Success. Out of the 800 volunteers, Preston said Andrews stood out because of her dedication and patience.

“She really takes the time to listen to the clients,” Preston said. “We get such good feedback about Pat. When they leave, they can’t stop talking about how amazing they feel.”

The smiles on those women’s faces are evident by the time they finish their two hours with Andrews, who meticulously selects outfits based on their specific style preferences.

When women are referred by a social agency and come to Dress For Success, they get one outfit for an interview. Once they land the job, they’re given five additional outfits, as well as shoes, accessories and toiletries.

Whitten called the organization a true blessing, with Andrews as an angel. “She’s kind and wonderful,” Whitten said of Andrews. “She envisions it right on the hanger before it’s on my body. She really makes me feel like a superstar.”

After the two-hour styling session, Whitten and Andrews were laughing and joking as if they were old friends. Before she left with her clothes, shoes and jewelry in tow, Andrews gave Whitten a friendly embrace, wishing her well on her new retail job at LensCrafters in Reynoldsburg. If Whitten keeps her job for a year, she’ll get to come back and receive another session with five more outfits. But it wasn’t a question of if: Andrews has so much hope for the women she styles.

“It’s uplifting,” Andrews said. “Their confidence is totally raised. I’m just happy to be a part of it.” 