Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Volunteer Spotlight: Cara Low

A gentle spirit with a passion for coaching others, Cara has been volunteering with Dress for Success Vancouver for nearly 3 years. After a short stint as a stylist, Cara almost thought she wasn't a fit for the organization before she found her perfect role as a Career Specialist.

Read on to find out more about Cara's passion for mentorship.

How did you get involved with Dress for Success Vancouver?
I actually saw it on a fashion blog. The blogger posted about sorting for Dress for Success Vancouver and she talked about what they did. I was looking for a way to be more involved with the community so I Googled it and thought it sounded really interesting. Originally I went in for a stylist position not knowing they had a Career Centre. I styled for two shifts and honestly felt like I wasn't cheery enough!I didn't know if it was the best fit for me so I asked if there were other things I could get involved with. I studied sociology and psychology and minored in counselling, and I had a certificate from Douglas College for career development. It’s something I always had an interest in so the Career Specialist role was perfect.

What do you as a Career Specialist?
As a Career Specialist I work in a variety of different areas. The ladies indicate what they need assistance with and we go from there:
- Mock interviews
- Cover letter and resume review
- General tips for job interviews and job search strategies 
- Navigating the job search process

At the Career Centre we focus on normalizing the stress and anxiety from being out of work and going for job interviews. We acknowledge that there are a lot of uncertainties with putting yourself out there. I also helped recruit the marketing and sales interns for their events. 

Why Dress for Success Vancouver?
It's always important to coach and empower people. The idea of doing that for lower income or more vulnerable women is even more important. It’s easy to help someone with a lot of resources, I see value in helping someone in a more difficult position succeed.

The coaching is for the women but by extension we help the kids because it's really important for their kids to have a positive role model. It's a bigger thing than helping someone find a job, it's helping them to be self sufficient and to provide for their families.

Where does your passion for mentorship come from?
A combination of me growing up and struggling with different things, that’s when I started volunteering at the Vancouver Crisis Centre (where Cara still volunteers). I just wanted to be able to help other people because it felt like the right thing to do other than dwelling on myself. It helps you learn empathy for other people if you’ve gone through different situations. It’s just a way to give back and keep growing.

I'm very appreciative of the people who have been a positive role model for me. Those key people gave me the support to explore different things and to know that it was okay to be unsure. It reminds me to do something with what I have instead of sitting back.

What do you find most fulfilling about working with Dress for Success Vancouver?
What I enjoy most in my role is seeing the clients after the appointment. They start out unsure and scared but by the end they’re very comfortable putting themselves out there. It’s not always the case but they usually feel better knowing that their experiences are important. Before the meeting they don't know they had skills or thought their skills weren’t worth anything. It's cool to see that change within the appointment.

What would a client be surprised to learn about you?
They probably don’t realize that I’m nervous going into the appointment too because I don’t necessary know what I’ll be helping them with. I always feel better knowing they found the appointment helpful on some level.

Has this experience changed or inspired you in any way?
It reminds me of things I can change when I’m in a tough situation. You see these women who are able to change their circumstances and change their life. From my last job as a probation officer I saw people who had negative friends or parents who didn’t support them in getting a job or finishing high school. I understand how hard it can be to change your life if you don’t have positive people in your life. 

Dress for Success Vancouver supports women because it’s hard to make that change on your own especially if you don’t have family or friends for support. Some of the women have friends who tell them it’s too hard to find a job or ask “why get a job?” We’re here to support those women by saying “it’s not easy to get a job but it’s possible.” For me it’s bigger than just a job, it’s not just about the money but about contributing to society. It’s to show and model to your kids that it’s empowering to work. 

What motivates you when you’re going through a tough situation?
Knowing that things do get better even if you don’t think they will on any level. It gets better. It’s also about framing your situation and looking at it as an opportunity to learn instead of looking at a difficult time as a permanent situation. 

Any words of advice for someone going through a tough situation?
Respect yourself enough to do something about a situation if it’s not working out. You don’t have to be a victim. You have the power to change your mind set about it but you have to look at yourself as well and what you’re doing. You can’t always focus on other people. I see that a lot in appointments where they focus a lot on the interviewer or things that are beyond their control. It’s never going to be easy but you can make things easier if you’re willing to focus on things you can change rather than focusing on things you can’t change. You don’t always get that unless someone introduces the idea to you.

Do you have any advice for the women going back into the job market?
I try to normalize the feeling of discomfort. I tell them it’s normal to feel uncomfortable looking for a job and putting yourself out there. Everyone goes through that. Often I hear “it’s easy for other people” but it’s not. I would be nervous, I would be stressed and I would be scared of being judged. They think it’s only them but I would have all those feelings too. If they focus on it to much, they can’t do more. 

You don’t have to put the pressure on yourself to find the one job that is going to be perfect. I tell them it’s okay to try different things and see what you like or don’t like, to meet different people and to build connections which will help you land your next job. It’s not a linear situation where you go from one job and move up in that field.

Do you have a favourite client success story that sticks out to you?
There’s one client I’ve worked with a few times. I remember her being really excited because she thought she was going to get a job. The interview went well and they told her she was pretty much going to get the job after they called her references but they just never called them. 

She went from putting a great amount of effort into the job search and being close to securing a job to not getting it after all. She kept applying despite feeling sad and disappointed and eventually got a job. I was so happy and proud of her because if it had been earlier on she probably would have just given up. It’s so easy to feel down about it especially when you’re so close. 

She said she could’ve easily given up, easily thought “why would they tell me that? Maybe people lie.” She thought she would think all those things but the encouragement from the volunteers at Dress for Success Vancouver kept her going. 

Has this experience taught you anything?
It reminds me that there are people out there that want to help other people. It’s so easy to focus on the negatives in our society because there are a lot of negative things that happen in life, in the news, and in our day to day. It reminds me that there are people who just want to help, they don’t want anything from it. They don’t want money and they don’t expect anything from the clients.

Most surprising thing about Dress for Success Vancouver?
I thought it was just about clothes and individuals donating clothes, I didn’t realize there was the Professional Women’s Group or the Career Centre. It’s actually a really large organization with a lot of women involved in it. There are so many volunteers I haven’t even met, it just shows how many people volunteer with them. 

I also didn’t realize that there were so many corporate sponsors they did outreach with. They have a lot of companies donating clothes and suits and that’s pretty cool. 

What do you like to do outside of volunteering?
I love staying at home and hanging out with my husband and having friends over. I love home decor, design, and crafts. I love sewing. I’m happy just being really low key.

Any last thoughts about Dress for Success Vancouver or the people involved?
Seeing the staff working so well together for a common purpose is really cool. It’s not easy being a non-profit organization but they’re doing something they’re really passionate about and something that is purposeful.

I love talking to Sandy and Lucia, I just think it’s really cool what they do. It’s a challenging job so to see them plugging away, engaging with volunteers and connecting with people is amazing.

Inspired? Are you a career professional who wants to give back to the community as a career specialist? Contact Dress for Success Vancouver for volunteer opportunities.

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