In July of 2013, Genevieve Sechter, Receptionist at Regent College, was sent as the Vancouver Delegate to a women's leadership conference in Florida by the Dress for Success Vancouver's Professional Women's Group. This provided a foundation for a Community Action Project that is scheduled for April 2014.
Rosemary Hutson interviewed her to find out about her vision and how the plan is materializing.
RH Genevieve, what is Dress for Success and the Professional Women's Group?
GS Dress for Success is a non-profit organization which receives women referred by government-run agencies and equips them with appropriate clothing to wear for interviews and the workplace. They prevent personal finances from hindering their clients in their search for employment or career development. DFS has a "free-store" and they provide volunteer wardrobe assistants who help select suitable clothing for each client so that she can have an outfit for interviews, and another one when she obtains a job.
However they go far beyond this service to establish each woman securely and profitably in her field. That is where the Professional Women’s Group comes in. These groups meet monthly providing fellowship, mentoring, networking and lectures by specialists in many fields of endeavour. They also assist women in various aspects of career development.
RH: How did you become the managing director of this project?GS: Every year the Dress for Success Vancouver's Professional Women's Group invites members to apply to represent their chapter of PWG at their international leadership conference. The Professional Women’s Group requires each applicant to fill out a detailed questionnaire about her history, goals and achievements. The DFS staff consider the prospective delegate’s outlook, obstacles she has faced in life and how these things can be fueled into service to other women and society as a whole. Happily, I was selected as the Vancouver Delegate for 2013-2014. I have never done Project Management before, but my heart and values were revealed in my application and I am thankful that this was enough. I got to attend this conference along with all of the other delegates from DFS locations around the world. We were trained to build teams of volunteers from the other members of our home PWG’s, and to create projects with these women to facilitate positive change in our communities. Each delegate has the freedom to work with any population in any capacity that she chooses. This is all done on a volunteer basis. The freedom we are given is liberating and exciting.
RH: What inspired you to apply?GS: I have always had a big heart and have dreamed of serving others in many ways since I was a little girl. This opportunity to assist others came with the added attraction of learning new skills that I could use for the rest of my life. I saw it as a character-building experience that would make it possible for me to serve more people more effectively. When I heard "community project" I heard, "this is for you, Genevieve." I am thankful to be the hub of growth, development, insight and creativity for other women. For me it is the next stepping-stone in a lifetime of service. I have previously worked with children, the elderly and people with developmental disabilities, and I have also participated in raising awareness about environmental causes. When God opens a door for me to serve, I walk through it whole-heartedly.
It is a gift to be able to make another person smile. I believe that is what I was born to do.
RH: What is your vision for this Community Action Project?
GS: For this project, I have a few goals. First of all, I want every member on my volunteer team to feel and experience what a blessing they are. I am truly thankful to work with these generous, intelligent, thoughtful and creative women. I think we live in a love-starved society and we don't get enough positive reinforcement. This can lead to us not living out the fullness of our God-given gifts. I enjoy reminding people how special and unique they each are and I want to use this project as an opportunity to showcase some of the gifts and talents of these incredible women.
Secondly, I want to demonstrate that there are good people in the world. It is very easy to become jaded and think that nobody wants to do anything kind unless there is a monetary gain. My team and I are being richly rewarded for this work, but we are giving of our time and talents and not asking for any specific compensation other than to bring joy to other women.
Lastly, the most obvious answer is for this project to provide something beautiful to these single mothers that we are gifting this to. I am not speaking as a parent, as I don't have any children of my own, but I know that it takes so much to raise a child. I cannot imagine having to figure it all out as a single parent! Parents in general, and especially single parents, can become so consumed with taking care of this other being, their child, that it's difficult to find time and space to relax. I want these women to get a short break from their day-to-day routine of meeting the needs of their children, and do something just for themselves. When Mom is taken care of, she can be more present for her children, and let's face it, Mom needs a break!
RH: How did the Dress for Success Professional Women's Group impact your life?GS: It has been a safe place for me to remember who I am at my core and to inspire me to dream beyond the obstacles that have been in my path. As an organization, I find that they continually honour the unique brilliance of each woman in her entirety. We are not just family members, employees and employers or people that believe this or that. We are dynamic, beautiful, special women, each of us in our own way, regardless of how we got where we are or where we are heading next. Dress for Success is a place for women to be witnessed and respected as beautiful daughters of God.
RH: Why are they taking on this Community Action Project?GS: Dress For Success aims to empower women to dream bigger and create a better world. The CAP program is an opportunity for women to develop or enhance innate leadership skills in themselves and the women around them while making a positive contribution to the community.
RH: How did the YWCA become involved?
GS: I approached the YWCA for the possibility of partnering with me for this project and they were keen as they do not have any funding for art. We discussed all of their programs and where my CAP might be of the most benefit. We realized that the single mothers in their program would benefit most from the opportunity to create art in community with each other. From that point we selected one particular transitional housing unit from several that they run, and that is where we will be hosting this arts program in the spring.
The single mothers were asked what type of art project they would like to do and they came back saying that they would like to create canvasses with mementos from their lives. I was very excited to hear this since it so happens that we are doing something similar amongst the Regent Community in the Lookout Gallery this season. We are still working out the details, but it looks like it will be a one day event and I hope to have working artists on board to teach the women some techniques if they need that kind of support.
I am thankful to be working in partnership with the YWCA Single Mother's Program and I hope to see a lot of smiles on the day that this comes to fruition!
Note: This project can benefit from donations of art materials, so if you have any that you are willing to share please contact Genevieve: firstname.lastname@example.org
Genevieve is featured in the first ever Dress For Success coffee table book- Threads along with other PWG Delegates from around the world! The book is $45 CAN and you can contact email@example.com to place your order.
Rosemary Hutson is a colleague of Genevieve’s at the Dress for Success Professional Women’s Group and also shares a connection with her at Regent College, where Rosemary has taken courses. She shares a strong commitment to promoting the actualization of persons striving to achieve their best potentialities and is an active word-smith.