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.