The Roslyn S. Jaffe Awards Empower Women-Focused Organizations Across the Country

Roslyn S. Jaffe's story begins and ends up in retail--before she ran her billion-dollar company, she worked on the store floor. She met her husband when they were both working retail at department stores--she at Gimbel's, he at Macy's. Together, they had the idea to open their own store, one that would offer the same discounts on clothing that, at the time, were limited to "hard goods" like TVs and kitchen appliances. But with three kids to support, her husband couldn't afford to leave his job. In 1962, Roslyn took on the responsibilities of beginning the business, seeing an added opportunity to provide fashionable, affordable outfits for working mothers like herself. The couple realized their idea with a small store called dressbarn in Stamford, CT. Today, it's a nearly $5 billion-dollar, five-brand retail operation called Ascena Retail Group. Roslyn is Director Emeritus. 

To continue her legacy of support for working women and their children, this year Roslyn and the Ascena Group launched the Roslyn S. Jaffe Awards, hoping to recognize "everyday heroes" who empower women and children. After narrowing over 1,000 nominations down to eight, a selection committee landed on three grant winners. The original plan was to stop there--but the group couldn't resist awarding smaller grants to the remaining five finalists. "I’m humbled and amazed at how many incredible individuals are doing such wonderful things," Roslyn told MAKERS.

Jaffe Award from DB - Internal on Vimeo.

Ascena Group awarded the $100,000 grand prize to Aza Nedhari, executive director and co-founder of Mamatoto Village, a D.C. non-profit that provides free and low-cost maternal health services to women and their families as well as training the next generation of Community Birthworkers and Midwives. They gave $25,000 to both The Sparrow's Nest--a North Carolina organization dedicated to youth leadership and mentorship--and The Coffee Connection / Project Empower, a group that supports women recovering from addiction.

Roslyn feels her story of entrepreneurship and perseverence connects to the award winners': "One of my philosophies is, ‘when life gives you lemons, you make lemonade.’  There were many road blocks when we first started the business, but by staying the course and maintaining my beliefs, we were always able to turn the road blocks into something that benefitted the business," she told MAKERS. "Our award winners share this philosophy.  Despite obstacles and sometimes a lack of support, there is an overarching feeling of doing what it takes to serve those who, in many cases, have had a life full of lemons."

The five other award finalists were awarded $5,000 each. They include Women's Small Business Accelerator, Inc. in Ohio and Rebel Nell, an organization that employs Detroit women and turns fallen grafitti into wearable art (intriguing, clearly). 

All the winners will be honored at a luncheon at the Roosevelt Hotel in New York on October 23. Award-winning journalist Soledad O'Brien will facilitate the event. Read more about the winners here