Mary Ivers has made such an impression in the community that Cincy Business editors published a feature about her in the magazine’s August issue, before they knew she was an Athena finalist.

But such recent attention doesn’t mean that professional accomplishment and community service are new for Ivers. She’d been a school teacher then a successful business owner before founding, in 1999, her current passion: Dress for Success, a non-profit that outfits low-income women as they enter the workforce and supports them while they’re there.

Despite the recognition, Ivers is more interested in focusing on others, like those who help the program and the women who are helped by it. "When I look across our program, I see so many women who continue to give their time, talent and treasure in support of our services. It’s amazing," she says. "Then you go up and suit one of our women and you can just see how important this basic service is to them." She mentions one "super success," a woman who spent nine years in prison, got out and was referred to Dress for Success. Today that woman is employed full-time and still participates in programs at the non-profit. "I continue to see her blossom," Ivers said. "These are tangible results."

It isn’t hard to find such inspiring stories, she says. "Just stay involved in the community."

That’s something she’s done adamantly since returning here after a stint teaching school in San Diego. She’d gone there with her husband after she graduated with an education degree from the College of Mount St. Joseph. She and her husband returned to raise their four children in Cincinnati, where they owned a software business for 13 years. It was on the 1985 Inc. 500 list of the nations’ fastest-growing companies. "As a business owner, I got exposure to the city and I wanted to learn as much about it as I could," Ivers says.

As her children grew and left the nest, Ivers was on the lookout for what she called "a new project." She heard about Dress for Success and spent a year visiting other Dress for Success models. Under the program, women referred by other agencies come to Dress for Success to choose a free outfit for an interview. The non-profit’s retention program conducts classes and workshops for women on a variety of topics that go beyond getting the job, such as improving your personal financial plan, and how to communicate with human resources. In 2002, Ivers started 4th Street Boutique, a thrift shop that now funds nearly 15 percent of the Dress for Success’ annual operating costs.

Today, Dress for Success outfits 1,000 women a year, and 300 to 400 participate in the retention program. But the way Ivers tells it, she’s the one who’s been helped. "The stars were just aligned," she says. "I am so fortunate to have had that timing in my life."

Ivers also participates in charitable programs of the Junior League of Cincinnati, graduated from Leadership Cincinnati (class 12), and was the Enquirer Woman of the Year in 2006.