Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Professional Women’s Group’s Graduation Celebration!

“Since I joined the PWG group, I gained more confidence and enjoy working with others a lot. I am very inspired by the chemistry of this wonderful group. It is a great experience of sharing and learning and this contributed to my success. Many thanks.” - PWG Member

The PWG members celebrate their graduation after receiving their 18-month career development program certification! 
On June 27th, 2015, almost 20 women graduated from PWG! Cheers to their success in completing the program. Here at Dress for Success Vancouver, our clients have the opportunity to enrol in a free 18-month Professional Women’s Group (PWG) program that assists members during the transition period from unemployment to being in the workforce. 

Our PWG Community Action Project ambassador Tarana Sultan and her commitee.

Our moderator, Sally, and our PWG Graduate, Thelma Palma, who shared her inspirational story.

In each monthly session, the women receive guidance from expert speakers, education on handling challenges and personal finance, as well as opportunities to interact and network with each other. The members truly invest in themselves by attending these workshops: by the end of the 18 months, they not only develop professional skills, but also the confidence to move toward self-sufficiency. If you would like to support a woman, a donation of only $30 a month ($360 per year) will give a woman the gift of self-esteem, self-sufficiency, and success through education, mentoring, and professional attire. Your donation will change her life and her family's lives forever. 

Brenda Benham welcomes our graduates into the PWG Alumni group!

The Pyrrha Team Supports Shop for Cause Sale, Benefiting Dress for Success Vancouver

We are so grateful for the help of seven ladies from the Pyrrha team with our upcoming Shop for a Cause sale! The ladies generously put in their time to sort through and organize shoes, purses, and clothing items in preparation for the sale. We truly appreciate the support - without volunteers like them, what we do here to empower women would not be possible.

The Pyrrha team volunteers together to organize clothing and accessories for the Shop for a Cause sale, which benefits Dress for Success Vancouver!
Shop for a Cause is our seasonal, 1-day clothing and accessories sale. From brand-new, to gently-used, to vintage, and to designer, there is a whole range of items at affordable prices. The upcoming sale is 10am to 6pm on July 25th, 2015 at Harbour Centre (555 West Hastings Street), Upper Mall Level. Here is a peek at just one part of the sale space!

"Before" shot of the Shop for a Cause sale space

"After" shot of the Shop for a Cause sale space - the Pyrrha team did an amazing job!
We would also like to announce something very exciting coming up with Pyrrha! Pyrrha has specially made a necklace piece in honour of Dress for Success Vancouver, and will be donating a part of the proceeds to our programs! This campaign will be starting in August. 

The Pyrrha team having fun while supporting the sale! 

Pyrrha's "Unafraid" with Critrine Talisman for Dress for Success Vancouver: 

"Unafraid" by Pyrrha, for Dress for Success Vancouver
The sun on the talisman symbolizes optimism and liveliness, and reminds us that hope shines through even in our darkest times. The citrine stone energizes and draws prosperity and success.

Check out what Pyrrha is about here.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Corporate Partner Spotlight: Spark Creations

A few weeks ago we met Lorie Corcuera, co-founder of Spark Creations who also serves as a mentor to countless women in the Dress for Success Vancouver Professional Women's Group. As a company, Spark's mission is to create and inspire loving human connections through both corporate and personal coaching workshops. Read on to find out how they create loving human connections as a corporate partner.

How is Spark Creations involved with Dress for Success Vancouver?
We have the Spark it Forward Race. which is a fundraising event. We raised over $17,000, there were 80 people involved plus volunteers and organizers. It was a great success. We want to continue to partner with Dress for Success Vancouver on some type of event. 

We’re also involve through mentorship and we save two spots for Dress for Success Vancouver women to join our Spark retreat and program. I often facilitate workshops and speak at PWG events.

What is the lasting impact of Spark it Forward?
We were able to share over 2000 random acts of kindness in a 2 hour period and I think a lot of the people who experienced the race as participates, volunteers or within the community will remember these people out there sharing random acts of kindness. That will have a lasting impact. There will always be one person out of the race who will want to spark it forward. 

What makes Spark Creations so passionate about the organization and how do you incorporate it into your company values?
Spark’s values are love, connection, and fun, so their values support and align with our values 100%. It’s an opportunity for us to share our love with these women, connect with them in a meaningful way, and to have fun. Whether it’s Spark It Forward or us mentoring, we want to create a WOW experience for them.

Is there anything else the community would be interested to hear about Spark?
Our purpose is creating and inspiring loving human connection, so whether it’s community or corporate, we’re focused on that. Everything we do is about creating an inspiring, loving, human connection. We continue to do it in the community, we bring it into the workplace where we’re seeing decreases in disengagement, and we want everyone single person to feel seen, heard, and loved. 

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Mentor Spotlight: Lorie Corcuera, Co-founder of Spark Creations

Lorie Corceura, the strong-willed co-founder of Spark Creations brings the same passion she has for sparking connection and creating WOW cultures through her company, as she does as a mentor for Dress for Success Vancouver. Read on to find out why she chooses to support Dress for Success Vancouver.

How did you get involved with Dress for Success Vancouver?
Christina Florencio shared it with me and I had always heard of it even when I was in the corporate world.

My mom was a single mom and she went through a really hard time with my father. There was abuse and it didn’t end so well. We were coming in and out of women’s shelters. Organizations like Dress for Success Vancouver supported her in raising 3 daughters, giving her the support to find a job. It wasn’t DFS Vancouver in particular but an organization of that kind so it’s near and dear to my heart to be part of an organization supporting women.

What makes you passionate about Dress for Success Vancouver?
They’re supporting women who feel alone and need to be a part of a community. Dress for Success Vancouver is about community and about empowering the women, but in a way that builds community so you don’t feel alone. It’s not just about an individual woman and dressing her up but building her confidence by letting her be part of something bigger and part of a community.

How long have you been a mentor at Dress for Success Vancouver?
First time I spoke at the Professional Women's Group was January 2013, and I officially became a mentor April 2014. It’s been over a year.

What do you do as a mentor?
I attend the Professional Women's Group meetings on a monthly basis, but I also have mentees that I speak and connect with on a regular basis. They don’t designate a person to you, but they introduce us as mentors and it’s up to them to respond.

Favourite moments or client success stories that you can share?
One story that I think is amazing is my mentee Serena Cripps. I’ve spent quite a lot of time with her. She was so inspired to do fundraising for the Spark it Forward race. She wanted to start her own group and her own non-profit organization. She invited me to speak at her workshops. We’ve developed a great friendship and trust and whenever she needs help she reaches out. 

What’s the most fulfilling thing about working with Dress for Success Vancouver?
It’s the people, it’s the organizers - Christina, Lucia, Jennifer, Jen and Val. All those people who put their heart and soul into the organization and the women we get to meet everyday. Everytime I go to one of those monthly meetings I cry. It’s just so amazing what they’re doing and I feel so blessed to be a part of it.

Any words of advice for someone going through a tough situation?
Whenever you’re going through a hard time, always reach out to a loved one. Someone you know who is going to be there to listen, to support you and love you and just be there for you. I don’t believe we’re suppose to go through life alone, we’re suppose to do it together.

Most surprising thing about Dress for Success Vancouver?

In general for mentoring, you feel like you’re the one who is mentoring and sharing your experience but they have just as much to share. I feel like it’s a learning opportunity, to connect with people and I feel like I’m co-mentoring because i’m getting just as much from them as they are from me. 

Friday, May 29, 2015

SUMAC RIDGE Pays it Forward to Dress for Success Vancouver

On Thursday, June 4th, Dress for Success Vancouver celebrates IMPACT 360: Celebrating Families, Fundraising for Change. This is the 16th year for the Signature Fundraiser benefiting the three programs committed to empower women into the workforce: Dressing Services, Career Centre and the Professional Women’s Group.

This year, Sumac Ridge will be paying it Forward to Dress for Success Vancouver by being the wine sponsor for IMPACT 360 this year. Guests will enjoy the Sumac Ridge Pinnacle sparkling, along with white and red wine varietals.

Sumac Ridge is kicking off a yearlong do-good campaign. Established in the heart of Okanagan Wine Country, Sumac Ridge is the oldest operating estate winery in British Columbia. In February they invited Miss 604 to help Dress for Success Vancouver Pay it Forward. They offered up $500 so she could help us shop for much needed items at the boutique.

Thank you Sumac Ridge for Paying it Forward to the community and helping us empower women into the workforce. Join us on Thursday, June 4th and get your Sumac Ridge tastings on! Get your tickets now

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Monthly Sponsor Profile: Genevieve Blondin

Dress for Success Vancouver is fortunate to have the support of many outstanding volunteers, one of which is Genevieve Blondin, an amazing advocate of the organization. She has given her time in many ways including in the Career Centre, as a Style Consultant, a Committee Member, and now an Advisory Board Member. She also sponsors a woman with our monthly donor program.  

What do you do?
I’m the Chief Operating Officer at Growing City.

How did you hear about DFS Vancouver?
I had visited the Portabello West craft festival and met two ladies from YES Vancouver. They told me about DFS Vancouver.  I was new in the city and wanted to meet people. I started out helping with sponsorship for Power Walk. 

Why do you choose to support DFS Vancouver?
When the ladies from YES Vancouver talked about DFS Vancouver, it was an org that rang true to me. There are two type of causes I support: the environment and women. Since I already work in the environmental field, I thought in my spare time I would give back to women in need.

What is the most fulfilling thing about supporting DFS Vancouver?
Being able to see women gain confidence and get back out in the work force. Helping them be an active part of society again and making them feel good about that as well. 

What do you hope that DFS Vancouver can accomplish in the next 5 years?
I hope that they continue their growth like they’ve been doing now, they’ve been doing well. I hope that continues to grow over time and I hope that they will be able to grow their team to be able to capitalize on all the opportunities in the market. 

How long have you been supporting DFS Vancouver?
I have been supporting for 2 years. 

I volunteered for the Power Walk event and did quite a bit of volunteering for sponsorship for other events. I was a career specialist for a little while and this year I was asked to be on their fundraising advisory board.I’m looking forward to attending as many events as I can as a guest.

Why did you decide to sponsor a woman through DFS Vancouver?
Volunteering my time with the organization made me realize how much Dress for Success' services (Consulting, Career Centre, and Professional Women's Group) empowered and helped women back into the workforce. My involvement with finding sponsors for events also showed me how much each donation helps the organization grow so even more women benefit from the services provided by the amazing volunteers. For these reasons, I decided to make my donation count by choosing to sponsor a woman through their monthly program.

What does sponsoring through DFS Vancouver entail?
It's the easiest thing! Each month, I have $30 taken directly from my credit card (that's $1 a day!) and, at the end of the year, I receive a tax receipt. Now that I have less time to donate to the organization, this sponsorship program makes me feel like I'm doing my part.

Do you have a favourite story or memory from DFS Vancouver?
I’d say when we were able to bring on a large sponsor last year. A woman from Toronto came to Vancouver and Jennifer and I gave her a tour of the boutique and had a chat. That really helped convince them to come onboard. It just goes to show how powerful the story is, when they get a glimpse of the Day to Day at DFS Vancouver, most people are pretty ready to give. 

Any other thoughts about DFS Vancouver?

Being new to the city, DFS Vancouver helped me integrate into my new life in Vancouver and I’m really grateful for the relationships that i’ve built through them. It feels like a second family. 

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Corporate Partner Spotlight: Fasken Martineau

Fasken Martineau, a long time supporter of Dress For Success Vancouver and Impact 360. Carmine Boskovich, partner at the firm shares insights into their ongoing commitment to DFS Vancouver.

How is Fasken Martineau involved with Dress for Success Vancouver?
We have been involved with DFS Vancouver for at least 15 years in various board positions, fundraising activities, and clothing drives. It has been a long standing commitment of the firm to DFS Vancouver.

What makes Fasken so passionate about the organization? 
Women are making changes for themselves and wanting to improve their job status to better their lives and their families. DFS Vancouver supports women and their whole family and that’s fundamentally important. 

A really interesting fact somewhat unknown even in the legal community is that DFS Vancouver provides support to the Vancouver legal community. Students in the legal assistant training program at Douglas College are invited to get dressed at DFS Vancouver before their first interview. DFS Vancouver has a connection with the people who work out here and it’s one of those organizations that the firm is firmly committed to supporting because it’s a hand up, not a hand out.

What do you mean by ‘it’s a hand up, not a hand out’?
Women who come through the DFS Vancouver program really need to commit to their life and to their career plan. It's difficult for sure, some women have been out of the work force for a while or even if they just want an upgrade, it’s a lot of work for the women to go through the program. That’s why we love supporting them.

Are there any events that you look forward to the most?
Fasken has always been a really big supporter of the Impact 360 event, we’ve been sponsoring the event for at least 8 years now. One of the speakers that came to the event had a huge impact on me. She was so well spoken and her story was so inspiring, a really great example of the types of women that DFS Vancouver are helping. She came on to find success in her life from a place you wouldn’t have thought.  I was inspired to get involved and worked on the organizing committee for a few years in the sponsorship area.  And, if not me, every year there are Fasken people working on the event.

Impact 360 is always such a fun event and every year there’s something new. They try to make it interesting for people to come again year after year. 

What’s the most rewarding part of the work you’re doing?

I love to hear the stories about the women who have come through the program, and hearing the success stories. One memory that stood out to me is one of the spokeswomen talking about the impact that going through the program had on her children. The change in her confidence and outlook made a big difference in her life and as her confidence grew, so did the confidence of her children. You’re impacting many people within a family, not just one person. 

Is there anything else the community would be interested to hear about Fasken?
Our continuous support of DFS Vancouver demonstrates that we make commitments and see them through. We’re not jumping on the next new exciting non-profit, or the next fancy event. It’s about supporting your partners that are doing great work and you’re supporting people who are doing the day to day.

That’s why we commit to DFS Vancouver to sponsor Impact 360 every year. It makes such a difference to have consistent sponsors to come back to year after year as it allows the volunteers to spend their energy on other things instead of starting from scratch and getting new sponsorship every year.

How did you get involved with the organization?
My friend Ashley Willard-Baumaun has been on the board for the past five years and was the chair of Impact 360 (when it was IMPACT). She has done a lot of great work for DFS Vancouver and she invited me to come out.

One more thing
I did have the opportunity to work with Deborah Twocock and she was an amazing leader. I do think that her legacy has been continued and improved upon. I was involved when Deb was ill and it was a really hard time for the entire organization, she had all the institutional memory. I really respect how the organization went from everything that Deb did to focus on moving forward. I know she’s proud of where DFS Vancouver is today.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Corporate Partner Spotlight: Goldcorp

Goldcorp - Supporter of Dress For Success Vancouver, sponsor of Impact 360 and creator of Casino Nights, a fund raising event for women in mining benefitting DFS Vancouver.

How is Goldcorp involved with Dress for Success Vancouver?
Goldcorp has been involved with DFS Vancouver since 2007. 

Originally, there was a core group of women who were really interested in the organization. To be able to support an organization focused on getting women into the workforce is a great alignment with one of our core company values of empowering others. 

The other genesis of the involvement stemmed from the fact that women are typically under-represented in mining. The idea of getting women back into the workforce and finding a successful career was really interesting. Of course, we believe any movement toward economic independence for women is positive, and it would be especially great if some of those opportunities for women were in the mining sector. 

At the end of 2014, a group of women at Goldcorp asked ‘how can we take the amount of money we’re already donating to DFS Vancouver and create a multiplier effect?”

That’s how the Casino Nights event was born. We wanted to get our network and people in the industry involved and raise awareness of the work that DFS Vancouver is doing. So, we used this event as a catalyst to generate more revenue, money, and awareness for DFS Vancouver in a fun, relaxed atmosphere that was ideal for networking. 

What makes Goldcorp so passionate about the organization?
The unique thing about Goldcorp is our core belief in creating sustainable value. We believe in creating lasting economic and social value in all of the communities in which we live and work, by supporting the areas of education, health, community development, and arts & culture.

We formalized that commitment by creating a donation policy that commits 1% of our annual profits to go towards communities. DFS Vancouver is just one of the organizations we partner with in our community investment program. We have been working with marginalized communities for a long time.  

What are some other initiatives that Goldcorp has supported?
In Vancouver, over the years, we’ve donated $20 million to various programs in the DTES through Street to Home, the SFU Goldcorp Center for the Art and in support of mental health and addiction initiatives through VGH and St, Paul’s Hospital. So, DFS Vancouver is well aligned with our philosophy of creating sustainable value and benefitting marginalized people who really need the help.

Are there any events that you look forward to the most?
We’ve been a part of the Impact Gala as part of our commitment to DFS Vancouver. That stemmed our interest in doing Casino Night this year because we asked “how can we take what we already put into that event to amplify it and make a bigger impact?”

Casino Night brought in over $40,000 which is more than our sponsorship for the Impact Gala. It introduced DFS Vancouver to people that weren’t aware of the work that they’re doing. And we wanted to position this as a great event bringing women together in the mining industry. Mission accomplished on all 3 objectives.

What was the lasting impact of Casino Night?
It was a great event from a networking perspective, a lot of people in the industry that had never met before and for some, it was really eye-opening that there are so many fantastic women engaged in mining in the city. It was also a lot of fun!
It sold out in just 2.5 weeks and we’re excited to do it again! It was a great success in its inaugural year and we hope it will grow over time.

What’s the most rewarding part of the work you’re doing?
Just knowing that you’re making a positive impact on people’s lives, that makes the work tangible and very rewarding. One of the most empowering things in life is the freedom to make choices, the ability to help someone have greater economic stability for their future, and the ability to explore opportunities. It’s nice to feel like you’re doing well at doing good when you hear about some of the success stories and the way women’s lives are changed through the program.

Is there anything else the community would be interested to hear about Goldcorp?

I think people would be surprised to hear how much we contribute to the communities where we operate, and not just in the form of jobs or taxes and royalties. We’re not a consumer product company that does social marketing to attract customers. We do this because it’s the right thing to do.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

A Few Good Men: Paul Keelan, CFO Coast Underwriters

The second spotlight in our A Few Good Men series is Paul Keelan, CFO at Coast Underwriters. Paul met us at DFS Vancouver when he group volunteered with his former company, PricewaterhouseCoopers. He attends our events, sits on our board, and lends a hand whenever we need!

How are you involved with Dress for Success Vancouver?
I’m on the board of directors.

The board of any organization helps provide governance and oversight, and helps set the direction for the organization. Being a CA, I’m involved on the finance side. 

How or why did you get involved with the organization?
When I was working with PwC I joined in on a team volunteering day. The firm gives employees one day a year paid to do volunteering. They have a foundation that connects with not for profits and creates opportunities to get involved - Dress for Success Vancouver was one of them. 

During my team volunteering day I spent time sorting clothes and helping them change from winter to spring clothes. I met some of the DFS Vancouver staff and volunteers and I was really amazed with the number of women who were being helped on such a modest budget; what tremendous work is being done with very little. As a result, I stayed connected and volunteered again. I continued supporting them financially and attended events. I’ve attended Impact since the beginning; it’s been fun to see the event evolve over time. 

What makes you so passionate about the organization?
Before joining the board I was the first male presenter at the Professional Women’s Group (PWG). That was a very rewarding experience and part of why I’m very passionate about being involved with Dress for Success Vancouver. A lot of their clients have had negative experiences with men but at the end of the day women have to interact with men in workplace. 

If DFS Vancouver can expose its clients to men in a positive light, I think that’s a real good thing. That’s one thing that keeps me motivated to help, to be one of those people that our clients see once in a while, so they do see that there are nice guys out there. Since then I’ve attended a couple of PWG meetings as a guest.

How long have you been on the board?
I’ve been on the board for 3.5 years now, I’ve volunteered for 7.

We’ve seen a lot of change in the last couple of years with Jennifer stepping in in what was a tough situation. I was able to help out in the office during that transition and do some day to day work to keep them going. It’s been a delight to see Jennifer and rest of the team make it through that transition so well. I think it’s really amazing to see. 

How did you end up joining the board?
I didn’t expect to be on the board at all. Deborah Twocock had approached me about it when I was still at PwC. I was travelling all the time and wasn’t in town enough to devote to it. Interestingly enough, about 4 years ago I was diagnosed with colon cancer and had time off work to re-evaluate a few things. I realized I didn’t want to be living out of hotels anymore. 

I left PwC and it afforded me the ability to do things like volunteer on the board. When I got myself established at Coast Underwriters I called up Deb and was happy to become more involved. 

Are there any events that you look forward to the most?
Something that has been very rewarding to witness is the growth of the fall luncheon. Not that I have  had any part in putting it together, but it was certainly nice to see that come together and it’s a real positive event.  

I’m excited to see the boutique renovation too! I’ve been kind of a face of the board around the office. I’m the guy that signs check so I’ve spent a fair bit of time in the boutique.

Any favourite activities that you enjoy doing as part of the board?
Having a hand in setting the direction of the organization is very rewarding. In the last couple of years we’ve tweaked the core values of the organization and that for me is nice to see. Having been part of that discussion, having the staff involved, and really being able to see that come to life. It is more than just words, the notion that we’re empowering women into the workforce. To me that’s a strong statement. It’s very exciting to have a hand in crafting those things and thinking deliberately about the message we’re trying to send. It’s less about being on the board and more about volunteering. 

What’s the most rewarding part of the work you’re doing?
The most rewarding thing for me is seeing clients even though I don’t get to see them a lot. Whether it’s past or present clients coming to Impact, at PWG, or in and around the office. Actually seeing the people that this organization assists is tremendously rewarding; it reinforces why we do this. 

Being on the board we’re kind of removed, we don’t necessary see the people who are benefiting from the effort. For me, getting those opportunities while limited really reinforces why this is such an important organization. 

How do you feel about the direction of the organization? 
I’m really excited about where we’re going. The clothing sales that we’ve only started in the last couple of years have been a tremendous success. It’s given us an extra degree of financial stability that we didn’t have previously. I’m pleased with that since I tend to think about the numbers side of things. 

When I first joined the board I was a bit worried because our financial picture was not super great and I worried about money a lot with the organization. In the last couple of years we’ve shored it up and I don’t worry about it as much! We always need more money because that never stops being an issue, but it doesn’t concern me like it did a few years ago. 

Do you have a favourite memory from 7 years of volunteering?
My favourite memory was being able to present at the PWG. That was really the first time I interacted with clients in any significant way and after the meeting so many women wanted to chat with me and pick my brain. I use to do HR and did a session on interviewing skills. I was nervous because I was told that they’d never had a man present before, I was worried about how the clients would react. The gratitude afterwards was almost overwhelming. People were just so pleased, it was really touching to see how appreciative the ladies were. 

I stayed well over an hour after the session was done with a group of ladies who wanted to chat. I think we might have gotten tossed out of the room. That was really the moment I went “wow, this place is doing good stuff!”

Do you have any last thoughts on the organization?
It’s amazing when I think about the fact that it’s been 15 years! I’ve been somewhat involved for half of that time and for me it’s just been a privilege to be one of handful of men fortunate enough to be involved with Dress for Success Vancouverhttp://dfsvancouver.org/impact/

Thursday, March 5, 2015

A Few Good Men: Ed Des Roche, Owner of Plum Clothing

As Dress for Success Vancouver celebrates its 15th year of operation, we couldn't forget about the men behind DFS Vancouver who have supported us over the years. The first spotlight in our 'A Few Good Men' series is Ed Des Roche, owner of Plum Clothing. Ed was our first official retail and corporate sponsor the year we opened, and graciously continues to sponsor us today. Over the years Ed has sat on our Board of Directors and has generously gifted gift cards and support to the organization. 

How did you start getting involved with Dress for Success Vancouver?
Astrid spoke to me before she started Dress for Success in Vancouver. We’d never met before so it was a cold call. She told me about her ideas for DFS Vancouver and it sounded interesting so I said I would help as a sponsor. 

Was there a reason why it spoke to you?
Dress for Success Vancouver sounded like something that would appeal to my customers. We put some parameters around sponsorship for our company because we were being approached for support from many organizations. Big Sisters and DFS Vancouver matched perfectly with what we thought our customers would support. 

How does it feel to be a sponsor for 15 years?
It feels pretty good! It’s a good organization. We’ve played different roles throughout the years, we’ve always sponsored but we were also a drop off depot at our stores for a while. It didn’t work too well for us because people would just come by with bags of stuff and it was hard for my staff to do their work. Now we do clothing drives over shorter periods of time so we’re prepared for it. 

Any standout moments from 15 years of being involved?
I served on the board for a while and that was interesting. I had a strong relationship with Deb. Astrid is quite a dynamo and she is hell bent on making the organization work. 

What’s the most rewarding part of this work?
Clothing and fashion is strongly tied to confidence for women in particular. It’s been a part of our DNA as a company because Plum pays special attention to customers who are more or less shy about fashion and feel insecure. Our staff are trained to make them feel more secure and help them dress appropriately. Dress for Success Vancouver is basically the same thing except they’re dealing with women who have huge potential but their one impediment is gaining the confidence to apply for work.

Clothing is very important and Dress for Success Vancouver recognizes that. The principal is the same as our company so they completely align. DFS Vancouver often takes clients from low points and helps to leverage them up to a point where they feel good about themselves and have enough confidence to start again. That’s a very short and interesting story to tell, it’s easy to understand. 

What was your experience like sitting on the board?
Ii was often the only male at meetings for Dress for Success Vancouver and I found it interesting, I learned a lot. I learned how female board works and there are some differences from one that is primarily males but it was mostly similar. Most board challenges are the same. It was a big learning experience.

Was there something in particular you were passionate about during your time on the board?
I am particularly interested in how the organization could appeal to sponsors. I felt there was a lot more the organization could do, the story is a good story and easy to tell. I feel like there is probably unrealized potential for the organization.

Do you have anymore thoughts or comments on the future of the organization?

I think it’s got a huge potential for growth.

Thank you for your continued support Ed!

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

From Cashier to Cheque Runs, Client Spotlight: June Lin

As soon as I sat down with June Lin to chat about her experiences at Dress for Success Vancouver, I was immediately struck by her positive energy and exceptionally welcoming presence. Even after a long day of work, June was enthusiastic and happily shared her story of settling into her dream life after a decade of working menial low level jobs.

How did you get involved with Dress for Success Vancouver?
It happened 3.5 years ago. When I was going to school I was collecting EI and the student loans office introduced me to the Face of Work program (FW), which had a case manager to help you with your resume. When I had an interview, the FW program put me in contact with Dress for Success Vancouver where I got my first outfit for the interview. I didn’t get the job but I didn’t stop. I did it for 7 months.

Can you share a little more of your back story?
Originally I’m from Hong Kong where I was a secretary, but it was hard to get into the same field here because they wanted local experience. I had all the certificates from Hong Kong in hand but they were all looking for local courses, certificates, and experience, I almost wanted to ask “if you don’t hire me how will I get the experience?”

When I first came here I didn’t have any plans for my career, I just wanted to learn everything. I went to school and took english classes as well as BCIT to take interior design and graphic design. I took criminology too but my english wasn’t good enough yet so I took 3 years to finish my english program. 

I had no problem getting a cashier or sales job. I was working at the Salvation Army as a cashier and sales associate for 3 years before I had to quit and go back to Hong Kong. I went back to visit my mom because she was sick. After she passed way, I took 3 months to take care of her things. 

When I came back to Vancouver I started thinking about what I should do because I had already been in Vancouver for 13-14 years when I left (it will be 20 years this year in May). I thought ‘what would I need to do if I want a clerical job?’ I made a decision and took Business Administration at Sprott Shaw College and got a certificate. It wasn’t easy!

What happened after?
I didn’t dream about getting a job right away because I needed local experience. I stopped applying for cashiers and lower lever positions because even though I would be able to do the work, I wanted an office job. After 7 months I had to repay my student loans so I got a job at Target. I worked there for 4 months in the back room doing physical work. It motivated me to think "I can get the job I want." My mom wanted me to be happy so I kept thinking “now that I have my certificate I cannot give up.” When I got home from work I worked on my resume.

After 7-8 months of doing this I kept thinking “don’t think about the time or how many resumes I’ve sent out, one day it will work out.” I know what I want at my age, I want a stable job. I can be a stable cashier but I wanted to use my knowledge and do something that I love. 

If I gave up I would’ve gone back home but I love living here so what could I do? I just did my best. I didn’t want to be a cashier or go back on EI. I wanted to work in a bigger and better place. It took me a couple more months but it’s okay, I got what I wanted.

What gave you the motivation to keep going and not give up?
I grew up with a single mom who always said if I’m not happy then she won’t be. My mom knew that if she asked me to stay in Hong Kong I wouldn’t leave, but she knew that if she did that I wouldn’t be happy. 

Sometimes after work I would cry and talk to my mom and she would say “just keep looking, you’re working right now.” In Hong Kong I never worked that hard. Sometimes I would cry at work but I was never late or missed any work. If I can’t be serious in a small job, I can’t be serious in a big job. 

I didn’t think it was a waste of time, I thought of it as training for my patience, for my strength, and for my whining. It wasn’t easy. 

What do you do now?  
I work in Accounts Payable at a property management company. 

Tell us about your new job
In January 2014 I got a call from a property management company for a support administration position on a one year contract, of course I said yes! It was the base job - uploading documents and some mailing in the afternoon. I did my best and my boss appreciated it. When she hired me she asked why I was right for the role, I said “I’m not looking for a job, I’m looking for a career.” It made her think that this is the lady who she was looking for. 

In September, I received an email from HR about a permanent position in Accounts Payable. Since I had my certificate and experience working in the accounting department in Hong Kong I thought “it’s nothing new if they don’t hire me” so I just sent my resume. After a few days they contacted me and asked me to come in for an interview. 

Everything started from a contract position to a permanent role which I started in October. It’s been 5 months and I’m learning a lot of accounting suff. I’m learning all the programs, how to do payables, and doing the cheque run every week. It's quite challenging.

How do you feel now that you have a permanent job?
Settled is the feeling that I have; I don’t really need to worry about losing the contract or wondering where I’ll be. I haven’t stop learning, I feel that I still need to learn because I’m learning at the job but I feel settled.

Did Dress for Success Vancouver help you with your job search? 
After they found out I had an interview they said ‘bring your resume’ and they helped me look at it. All the tips they gave me were so helpful. The mock interview felt real, I was so nervous. It took a lot of practice until one day I just felt comfortable going to interviews. 

How did you end up joining the Professional Women's Group program?
Lucia asked me if I wanted to join the PWG program because I had just gotten a job.

What has your experience with the PWG program been like?
I didn’t know what to expect, the second week in I went on a picnic. Every week they have career boosters like how to deal with displeasure or how to use colour to match your clothing. Another time they had a workshop on how to use a computer and taught us how to manage our time.

When people were sharing their stories at PWG they don’t attribute it to religion but they’re so thankful and grateful, it’s very inspiring. These women say during their whole life they fail, they feel used until they got to DFS Vancouver. They can face all the sadness and failure because so many people were there before and went through that and now they’re successful. That time made them even stronger. 

How has Dress for Success Vancouver helped you get to where you are today?

When I hear so many positive things, words, and people who appreciated me, it gave me great confidence. I don’t know the people at DFS Vancouver but they trained me to speak to people at work and it helps me get along with people much easier. 

What’s one of the biggest lessons you’ve learned from this experience?
One thing I learned is patience, patience will build confidence. When I got the job I was nervous and scared because everything was brand new to me. But because I had patience built up from my search I just picked up everything because I really concentrated.  

What advice would you give someone else struggling?
Don’t put yourself into a negative spot because there are so many choices in life. I thought “If I cannot get there, I can still work but I might not be in the career I want,” which is okay. You have to say something to yourself that’s positive, you can’t say ‘if I don’t get a job my life is finished.” Positive thinking is very important.

What really helped you through the rough times?
I have my religion, I pray all the time but sometimes sharing is good. Telling other people “I’m upset right now because the interview i just went to I really want the job, but they’ll probably turn me down.” Let it out, when you get release you can start over again. Just don’t give up. 

I went to interviews and heard no 10-20 times, if I gave up I wouldn’t be here. 

What do you want people to know about Dress for Success Vancouver?
The clothing is a really small part of DFS Vancouver; It’s really about the people helping you look for a job, the specialists - the people who spend time practising your interview with you. The interview and resume practice were more important. It’s a consistent program, you just have to put down your name to join and it’s very helpful.

They helped me figure out how to send out resumes. The specialists understand the market and how to help. They said that by putting 80% of my resumes in receptionist positions, I wasn’t getting a broader variety of job offers.

Any last thoughts?
My office used to be on Hornby St. but we recently moved across the street from Dress for Success Vancouver! I just got married, and I feel settled.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

PGW workshop featuring Scott Armstrong!

"Scott Armstrong has been described as one of the most dynamic and energetic presenters you are likely to meet. His ability to provide meaningful content that engages audiences of all interests is something that sets him apart."

Scott honored us with his presence on February 4th, 2015 for the PWG Community Action Project (CAP) Workshop. The CAP project is coordinated by a PWG member to serve local community and to give back. This yearm the CAP project is provinding leadership and computer training for the Somali Youth Association of BC (SYABC). The CAP volunteers are presenting several of these leadership workshops and were looking to improve their presentation skills.

Scott was able to give some wonderful insights on public speaking and some very good advice on how to do a great presentation! We know that public speaking can be intimidating. So does Scott! He shared with our PWG members his former fear of presenting in public, which made it easy for our women to see that they can do it too! 

Thank you Scott for volunteering your time and your expertise with our PWG members!

Lesson of the day: LESS IS MORE!

Share the love with Tarts Bakery's Heart Tart!

Put a little love in your TART this Valentine's Day! Or a lot of love, as is the case with the Tart Sisters of Tarts Bakery who are hard at work baking their handmade Heart Tarts for the 3rd year in a row to raise money for Dress for Success Vancouver. The special Heart Tart is available now until Valentine's Day. Get your pre-order in before February 14th and give love back! http://www.tartsbakery.ca/

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

A Blast From the Past: Dress For Success Vancouver Founder Astrid Levelt

As we gear up to celebrate our 15th anniversary in March, we had the pleasure of speaking with Astrid Levelt, the founder of Dress For Success Vancouver. With the energy and passion of a natural born leader emanating from her voice, Astrid shares fond memories of the organization's early days. From the feeling she got the first time she met a client to the reasons why the organization is so successful, read on to find out more about the woman who started it all. 

15 years of Dress for Success Vancouver! How does it feel?
It’s pretty exceptional, I’m so thrilled. 

What do you attribute to its success?
The success and longevity of the organization really comes down to the commitment of the early volunteers. It goes back to having a small group of dedicated volunteers right at the outset who did all the hard work such as sorting clothes and setting things up. 

What were some of the amazing things the early volunteers did?
A woman at the first meeting said that one of most important things in developing a non-profit is having really amazing volunteers. She volunteered to develop the training manual for our volunteers. We counselled and trained all of them. There was mandatory training before they could even talk to clients or sort clothes. That’s how comprehensive it was.

What gave you the inspiration to start Dress For Success Vancouver?
It was August of the year before we opened. I saw a TV show interviewing Nancy Lublin about Dress For Success; it reminded me of when I lost a job a few years earlier and my mom took me out and bought me new clothes. She bought me three new outfits and I remember how great I felt. At the time there were 26 programs in the US and Vancouver became number 27 when we opened our doors fives months later.

Full circle moment: All three of those outfits were subsequently donated to Dress For Success Vancouver.

Why did you start the organization?
I’d always enjoyed doing volunteer work but hadn’t always found the work to be as rewarding as it could’ve been. I wanted to create a place that was about creating a great experience for everyone involved. A great volunteer experience was very important. People have volunteered in places that were short lived because they don’t always feel appreciated or don’t feel that the work is as rewarding as it could be. 

I’ve always felt that Dress For Success Vancouver is something in between serving food in a soup kitchen and being a big brother or sister, those are two extremes. Dress For Success Vancouver allows you to help 4-5 people a day and anything you can do for them they feel gratitude. Then there’s something that’s engaging about it and makes people feel great about themselves. 

What was it like starting the organization?
We had our first meeting in December 1999 and opened our doors in February 2000. Going from concept to opening our doors in 7 weeks is unbelievable. It’s all because of hard work and amazing volunteers, some dragged their husbands in to build change rooms. My dad built the original change rooms and my mom and I painted the walls. I begged, borrowed, and stole clothing racks. Plum clothing was our first contributor and they’re still helping to this day.

You started with nothing and opened your doors in 7 weeks. How did you manage to do it?
I called together some friends and friends of friends and invited about 20 people to a wine and cheese I hosted at my parent’s house. People whom I didn’t know well and some whom I’d never met came to that. I told them “here’s my idea and here’s what I want to do.” 

I approached a Catholic priest that I knew and asked for space. He found us space on Main & 12th at St. Patricks Parish. We started off in the bedrooms of four nuns: 2 rooms for clothing, 1 for accessories and 1 change room. We literally started with four 12x12 spaces and built it up to what it is today.

When you started did you know it would be this successful?
No. I could not have predicted what Dress For Success Vancouver could've achieved or the thousands of people it could've helped.

Can you tell us about the early days?
If I was volunteer #1, my mom was volunteer #2. We didn’t have an online booking system because we had no internet access. We only had a cell phone so our booking system was two volunteers - my mom and another woman taking turns taking bookings daily. The bookings opened at 4pm and people could call in and book appointments.

We started with two member agencies - agencies who refer clients to us. In the early days we didn’t know what we didn’t know. They told us what we needed to know in order to build a better program and gave us other ideas as it evolved.

When we started we kept 80% of the clothes we got because we didn’t have a lot of donors. We had a small network of donors and no volunteer turnover, they came and stayed. 

As per Executive Director Jennifer Halinda "we keep about 60% now and re-donate clothes to WISH Society and Big Brothers. We also hold 3 clothing sales a year of vintage designer wear and all proceeds go back into our programs."

How did you feel when you met your first client?
The first time meeting a client face-to-face and helping them find suits was such an unbelievable feeling. Clients walked in unsure of what they’re getting into, they didn’t know what to expect and weren’t feeling great about themselves. In the early days they walked out in the clothes they selected; they walked taller and looked happier, it was such a neat experience.

What was the turning point in the organization?
As I mentioned my mom was one of two people taking bookings. By 6 months we couldn’t handle the work and we knew we needed to hire but had no money. I was able to rally $5000 from Dress For Success worldwide which was just enough to fund someone to work 10-15 hours. That person was Deborah Twocock. She was able to work 10 hours a week from her home office and gradually worked up her hours to become full time. 

Deb played a huge part in the way Dress For Success Vancouver was built and sustained. She made people feel valued, like they were the single most important thing to the organization’s success. One of my biggest accolades in starting the organization was being able to hire Deborah Twocock. 

Can you tell us a little bit about Deb?
Deb was amazing at developing relationships, in fact many networks and relationships developed in Canada can be attributed to Deb’s great work. She was a well respected member of the worldwide network which includes receiving the Nancy Lublin Award. 

She’s been there from the beginning until she lost her battle to cancer. She passed away in April 2014 and my mother passed away in December 2013. My mom was a standout presence at Dress For Success Vancouver as well as Deb.

We opened our doors on February 2, 2000 and Deb’s daughter was born in March 2000. We’ve been able to track the success and growth of Dress For Success Vancouver through Deb’s daughter, Maddy.

How long were you with the organization before you stepped away?
I was there for six years and I still get clothes delivered to my house to this day. Founders have a very important role to play but one of most important roles they have to remember is when to get out and let the organization establish its own growth. It’s very important that founders know when to leave. I felt that there was a good board in place, Deb was well positioned to lead the organization and take it to its next level. 

Was it a difficult decision to leave?
No! Intuitively I just felt like it was the right thing to do. It had its own identity and it wasn’t my organization. It was the right thing to do. Throughout the organization’s history I’ve continued to attend events and support Dress For Success Vancouver

Do you have any hopes or wishes for the next 15 years?
I don’t pretend to know all their future plans but my hope is that it can continue to provide a wonderful experience for clients and volunteers.

Any full circle moments?
One is when we first created the Professional Women’s Group. The program came about because we started seeing clients coming back 3 months after they had gotten a job and were being re-referred to us. Some of the women were not surviving through their probationary period. A lot of agencies help people get jobs but no one was in the business of helping them keep their jobs. We found that there were basic things missing in people’s lives, that if they didn’t have a continuous history of employment they would be missing some of the soft skills of working in an office. 

It happened in the early days during one of the first meetings. A woman had just started her job and she brought in her pay cheque. She held it up proudly and said she needed to show us her pay cheque before she would even deposit it. 

Another is watching people grow and the vital role that Dress for Success Vancouver played. Not only did they get a job through dressing and retain their job through the employment side, there was a life changing aspect to it that was so important. It impacted their children and families because these women became role models for their children. They were productive, contributing, financial providers. What an amazing thing Dress For Success Vancouver has been able to achieve and create such an impact on society.

Are you involved with any initiatives today?
I still do volunteer work, things that make people feel great. My latest project is supporting women in feeling great by donating unused cosmetics and skin care supply packs. Every woman has some unused cosmetics lying around. 

The project is just starting and we're planning to support single mom groups like those at YWCA and Union Gospel Mission. I’ve found that when women have any money left over, they usually spend money on their children but never themselves. We're holding cosmetic drives twice a year, packaging and redistributing unused cosmetics and skin care. 

Can you share one of your most cherished memories?
One of my lasting legacies is my relationship with Deb. My husband and I ended up being very involved with Deb’s care, she was very special to us both. Dress For Success Vancouver did a big event for Deb and it was such an amazing way to honour her.