“People are coming here. They want to be part of this area. They want to be part of the community and start fresh.”
After nearly 30 years on Wall Street, Linda Armstrong returned home to NEPA, ordered five tons of dirt and replanted every bulb in her yard. That’s when she realized that she wasn’t ready for retired life—that she still had so much more to give. So in 2010, she founded Dress for Success Luzerne County, a nonprofit that empowers women in work and in life. The office in downtown Wilkes-Barre provides professional attire, a career center, job training programs and more to about 250-300 women each year.
Linda initially found out about Dress for Success while she lived in New York. She had volunteered with the organization in its early days, back when it was just one little shop in Manhattan. Today, the organization has nearly 150 offices around the globe. Linda proudly serves as the Executive Director at the local affiliate in Luzerne County.
Every day, Linda helps women find employment and build better lives for themselves and their families. Outside of work, she enjoys swimming and riding her motorcycle down NEPA’s country backroads. Her life is a true testament to the saying, “Empowered women empower women.” We sat down to hear more about her story.
How long have you lived in NEPA?
I think it’s 14 years ago that I returned.
What did you miss most about NEPA?
I missed the sense of community and the sense of home and the easy access to everything. When you live in New York and you have to go a few miles, you go an hour before. You leave yourself a lot of time. I feel like I have a lot more time in my life now because I don’t have to struggle with a commute. I laugh oftentimes when people say, “Oh, I have to go all the way to Scranton.” Like, I could walk to Scranton.
What brought you back to NEPA?
Well, it was after September 11, when I experienced a little too close for comfort what happened then. I worked for another five years in New York, and I was doing the most mundane jobs. I was an officer in a large Japanese bank, and I said, “My god, this is all I’ll ever be.” It was time to return.
What do you love about your town?
Particularly being from Pittston, watching the resurgence and being able to be part of that. About a year after I opened Dress for Success, the flood destroyed my home in West Pittston. I knew I couldn’t go through that again, so we found a house in Pittston. It was a foreclosed property that we bought at an auction. I knew our mayor, and he came to me and asked if we were going to flip it. I said, “No, we’re going to live in that house.” I saw him again, and he goes, “Linda, everybody’s saying your house looks great. You’re doing a lot to it. You’re really helping it come alive, and thank you for it.” I like being able to have that access and to be part of helping things along.
I like walking down a street knowing a bunch of the merchants. I think there’s three in a row that I went to high school with. A lot of people stayed, and a lot of people came back and are trying to make it something again.
What’s your favorite NEPA restaurant?
I enjoy the Gramercy in Pittston. My husband loves the pizza there. I go crazy for the veal parm. And it’s just down the street from us.
What’s your favorite thing to do in NEPA?
I ride a motorcycle. My husband and I have motorcycles. I like that, any direction I head out in, I’m in beautiful country. When I lived in West Pittston, I was right on 92 headed out to the mountains. Now in Pittston, I can be in Suscon. I can be in Tunkhannock. I could be riding around anywhere within minutes. No traffic lights, no traffic. Just enjoying the country and the beauty.
What’s next for you?
Right before the pandemic, I became a certified recovery specialist, which is basically a drug and alcohol counselor. I’ve been combining the educational part with Dress for Success and helping people recover from substance use disorders with a focus on opioid use disorders.
People think that at Dress for Success, we just give you a nice outfit. But it’s not. It’s so much more than the clothing. This is every woman’s opportunity to have a safe haven, to have a place where she can come, and where people respect her.
Where do you see NEPA heading in the future?
I see this area has great potential. Just where we’re located, you could be anywhere in two hours: New York, Philly, even up into Connecticut. When 81 was first built, it was called the Penn-Can because it went from Pennsylvania to Canada. You can be in any number of places easily. And I think that people are coming back in this area. It’s already evident with real estate. My aunt sold our family homestead in Duryea in 24 hours. Property is going like that. People are owning them. People are living in them. That’s a real sign that people are coming here. They want to be part of this area. They want to be part of the community and start fresh.
Because I can make a difference, and I can see the difference I make. You can see tangible results of your actions. Of course, you’re part of the community and the greater good, but you’re not just this fungible mass of humanity. If there wasn’t a social event after work when I was in New York, I just ran home on a bus, went home and closed the door. That was it. That was my community, and it was nonexistent. Here, I can be part of a community and make a difference.