We had the pleasure of sitting down with Stephen Flynn, founder of Working Gear. He talked to us about the impact that Working Gear is making in the community and why it’s important for the organization to continue to receive the support it has until today…
Tell us your name and what you do here at Working Gear:
My name is Stephen Flynn, I am the person who started Working Gear 12 years ago and I’m a volunteer in the shop. I like to come here on Wednesday nights and I like to help a variety of guys get clothes and work gear so that they can get ready to go back to work.
What motivated you to found this organization?
Well when we started Working Gear 12 years ago, there wasn’t any kind of service in Vancouver or the Lower Mainland to assist men going for job interviews or onto a worksite with clothing or gear supports. There was a service like that for women called “Dress for Success” – which is fantastic organization but it didn’t provide services for men.
How much growth have you seen in the last 12 years?
Well it’s been a busy 12 years and Working Gear has been open two or three days a week for almost all of this time. We’ve seen tremendous growth; not only in terms of the size of our shop and the amount of clothing and gear that we provide to men (and now increasingly to women in the trades) but also in terms of the numbers of people we serve. At the current time, we feel that we probably provide services to about 1,000 clients a year. And on a night like tonight, it’s a busy night. We’ve got 10 – 12 clients and five or six volunteers helping them get haircuts, interview clothes and construction gear, especially work boots.
Can you tell us a story that has stayed with you in these last 12 years?
Well there are a number of clients that we’ve had come in to the shop, and these fellows have become volunteers in the shop as well. These are people that we kind of know the best, and have a really good, maybe the best, appreciation for because we’ve gotten to know them over a longer period of time. They might come in once a year, we might see them every couple of years, or they might be repeat clients over the years. And in 12 years, you know they are older, the kinds of jobs they are looking for are different but they are still really challenged to be able to afford nice looking interview clothes or trade appropriate construction gear. These kinds of things are very expensive. And for men who are living in poverty, who don’t have the best paying jobs to begin with, these kinds of support are very important.
How much impact do you see Working Gear is making in the community?
Well that’s a good question. We’re just starting to get better at tracking our statistics. But we know that we do have an impact and that the services we provide are really needed. We know that by working with our partner agencies, the employment service organizations, as well as anecdotally from stories we hear from the men and women coming into our shop that the impact that we have is critical. What we are trying to do is provide accessible clothing and gear supports for our clients to be able to return to work as quickly as possible. We are low barrier, don’t have a lot of paperwork and don’t create barriers for them to get back into the workplace. We want them to have the clothes they need to be able to get out and to find a job.
What can you tell potential donors or partners about this organization? How will their money/ donations contribute to your cause?
Well that’s a good question. Since day one Working Gear has relied upon the kindness of strangers and donors. Most of our clothing and gear is donated, although we do purchase some items such as rain gear and steel toe boots, which is part of the reason why financial donations are so important as well. We feel that, you know, we are not providing handouts to people, we are providing a helping hand up for people that are determined and ready to work. And the donations that they make help keep the doors open here, they keep our services free, and they support not only hundreds but over a thousand men a year who come in and use our services. So those kind of contributions are very important to us, and any donations that are made, whether financial or in-kind, go directly towards our services.
We invite everyone to join us at Working Gear’s Annual Fundraiser – Gear to Give held on June 6th at the Vancouver Club. Click here for more information.