Meet Sarah Beley, Director of Working Gear

Meet Sarah Beley, Director of Working Gear

 

Sarah Beley is Working Gear’s director and all-round super star. Sarah leads the organization, supported by a team of volunteers and Working Gear board members.

Earlier this year, Working Gear was showcased on CTV’s Holmes Family Effect, with Mike Holmes, his son Michael and daughter Sherry surprising Sarah and giving the shop an incredible transformation. We sat down with Sarah to find out what motivates her, how the show impacted Working Gear, and how the organization is continually evolving to the meet the needs of the community.

 

 

What brought you to Working Gear?

I started volunteering for Working Gear six years ago and soon realized there was a growing need for our services in the community. Feeling compelled to do more, I spent more time in the shop and ended up managing operations on a volunteer basis. At the start of 2021, I became Working Gear’s first employee, and am now able to do what I love full time.

People ask me what my motivation is: growing up in Alberta, I had a tough childhood. My father died when I was 9, my mother suffered from mental illness and my uncle disappeared in the DTES when I was a kid. My experiences gave me a unique lens into the trauma, pain, and helplessness of marginalized people in our society, and the negative impact this has on their mental health and economic prospects.

I’m one of the lucky ones. Thanks to the support of my extended family and the support of my local community, I ended up moving to Vancouver to study for a degree in Political Science at Simon Fraser University. I now feel a responsibility to advocate for people who weren’t so fortunate, and I’m able to do this through Working Gear.

Sarah eagerly awaiting the big reveal with volunteer Cal and the Holmes family

What was Working Gear like before the show?

Back in 2019, like many other volunteers, I had a full-time job, so this was like my side gig. We were trying our best to support our clients, but it often felt overwhelming.

Demand for gear was outstripping supply: many of the boots we had were used and sometimes had holes in them. This wasn’t what our clients deserved.

We didn’t have the right equipment to run an orderly shop: our computers were old and the lack of washing machines meant I was taking laundry home on the bus.

The shop itself felt claustrophobic and institutional. It had a terrible layout, poor lighting, and no changing rooms. Clients had to try on clothes in the bathroom! It was the opposite of the welcoming, supportive environment we were aiming for.

How did it feel to be on the show?

When I was surprised by the Holmes family, it felt incredible. The downtown eastside has negative connotations, and the people here are often forgotten about. To have someone notice what we were doing, and want to help us, made us feel validated.

Working Gear now looks like a retail store you’d expect downtown! The space is open, bright, and welcoming. Clothing is merchandised, we have changing rooms, washer dryers, a new computer and printer for clients to print resumes. We even have a barber shop complete with barber’s pole!

It feels wonderful to have a calm, safe and loving space for our clients (and for me!). We break all these molds by delivering a service that’s different. Nothing has changed with how we approach Working Gear, except now the look fits.

What keeps you energized?

I love working in the DTES, helping clients, and partnering with referral agencies and other organizations in the community. There’s a lot of innovation here and many cool people doing cool things. It’s inspiring and revitalizing and I love that Working Gear is part of this ecosystem.

We’re continually evolving what Working Gear is to the community. We recognized that a growing number of people were looking for construction type work and so now that is our focus. Over the past year, we’ve doubled the number of clients and expanded services to include all gender identities and added a barber service.

Importantly, we’ve created a deinstitutionalized, safe community space. These are people who’ve made a choice to change their lives for the better. We’re one of the first places they turn to for support and many are teetering on the edge. It’s our job to give our clients a positive experience, cheer them on, and help them move forward to a positive future.

Volunteer Spotlight: Michael

Volunteer Spotlight: Michael

As a former Working Gear client himself, our volunteer Michael understands better than anyone what our clients are going through.

Michael is from Nigeria, a country on the West Coast of Africa. Arriving on his own to Canada in spring 2019, he enrolled in a program at Douglas College that supports new immigrants as they transition into the Canadian workplace. When Michael was invited to his first interview in Vancouver, he had nothing smart to wear, and was referred to Working Gear by one of the program’s facilitators.

The team of Working Gear volunteers quickly helped Michael find two suits to wear and he left the shop feeling confident and prepared for his upcoming interview.

Hoping to bring the same positive experience to other clients, the very next week, Michael began volunteering at the shop. Each week, he helps clients navigate their way around and find appropriate clothing, so that they too can head into the working world with confidence and style.

“When I first came to Working Gear, I didn’t just get the suits that I needed, I got love from Sarah and the team. I immediately knew that I wanted to become a volunteer myself so that I can greet everyone with a big smile, just like how I was greeted my first time. I want to make every client believe that they matter and that someone loves them. It’s a fulfilling experience.”

Michael is one of the many Working Gear success stories. Shortly after his appointment, he got a job as an auditor at a hotel and is currently studying for his MBA. He considers his two Working Gear suits some of his most valuable assets and continues to wear them regularly.

The busiest season for charitable giving is upon us. With your support, Michael can continue to greet clients with a big smile and help them find the right clothing for the job. With your generosity, Working Gear can continue to break down barriers to employment that many individuals are currently facing.

Please mark your calendar and schedule time to make your yearend donations. We accomplished so much in 2020 and with your help can do even more in 2021.

If you’re interested in becoming a volunteer, contact Sarah Beley at info@workinggear.ca.

Volunteer Spotlight: Barb

Barb is not only one of Working Gear’s longest-serving volunteers— she also plays a huge role helping to run the shop in her role as Operations Manager.

Barb processes clothing donations, looks after merchandising and store aesthetic, trains volunteers and creates guidelines, such as the COVID-19 Health and Safety protocols—and that’s all alongside helping our clients. What doesn’t Barb do?!

Barb heard about Working Gear’s volunteer program in 2016 through her employers at WorkSafeBC. With more than a decade of retail experience under her belt, she felt that helping individuals to find the right interview and work appropriate clothing would be the perfect way to give back to the community.

“I feel a responsibility to go out there and make a difference. I could be one of these women; my son could be one of these young men. Working Gear is changing people’s lives for the better, I see that every day that I volunteer.”

Barb says it’s a privilege to be serving clients: “By helping people find clothing for work, we’re giving them a stepping-stone to future security. I’ve gotten to know many ex-clients over the years, and when they return to share the good news that they’ve found a job and are doing well, it warms my heart.”

Barb has seen Working Gear evolve over the years. The organization started out helping men find interview appropriate clothing, mostly for business or office type jobs.. But seeing the diversity of jobs our clients were applying for, Working Gear soon began to offer items like rain gear, boots and high-vis vests to meet the needs of individuals applying for manual labour positions.

Another important shift Working Gear has made over the years – we no longer just support men. Working Gear gladly welcomes and supports all gender expressions. And most recently, we started offering haircut services to help people look and feel more confident.

With all the changes, Barb remains as passionate about Working Gear as she did four years ago. “On certain days, I’m dragging. But every time I walk into the shop, I get a real boost and I come to life.”

Working Gear needs your support so that volunteers like Barb can continue to make sure the shop floor is stocked and ready to serve our clients. By making a donation, Working Gear can continue to break down barriers to employment by ensuring our clients are equipped to reintegrate into the work force.

If you’re interested in becoming a volunteer, contact Sarah Beley at info@workinggear.ca.

Volunteer Spotlight: S^yowah

S^yowah helps clients find the clothing they need for their future employment.

Working Gear volunteer, S^yowah (Timothy James Elijah)

Working Gear is run almost entirely by a team of generous-hearted volunteers. Individually and together, they make a big contribution to the organization and to the lives of Working Gear’s clients.

One of Working Gear’s newest volunteers is S^yowah (Timothy James Elijah), founder and director of Buffalo Heart Medicine Healing Society. He is Onyota’a:ká from the Oneida of the Thames First Nation from a specific Bear Clan Family.

Working Gear recently donated items to All My Relations, a program S^yowah is involved with that helps Indigenous people living with addiction. Seeing the positive work that Working Gear does in his community – and already familiar with the organization in his previous role as a career development practitioner – S^yowah wanted to give back by joining Working Gear’s volunteer program.

S^yowah works directly with clients, or as he likes to call them, participants, to help them find the clothing they need for their future employment. But to him, the volunteer position is about more than just finding the right fitting shirt or boots – he also wants to make sure participants leave with a renewed sense of purpose and self-worth.

“It takes a lot of courage to say I need help,” says S^yowah. “When participants walk through our doors, they are often nervous and unsure. I see my role not simply as providing them with clothing, but to help them realise that they have a right to be here and that they deserve to have a bright future in the working world.”

Despite how many volunteer shifts he works, S^yowah is always amazed at the change he sees in the participants. “I see them transform in just 20 minutes and leave with a smile and the confidence to go and get the job,“ he explains. “That’s what Working Gear is all about and that’s why I keep coming back.”

Working Gear needs your support so volunteers like S^yowah can continue to lend a helping hand. Your donation will help ensure the shelves at Working Gear are stocked and ready for our clients so we can continue to break down barriers to employment.

Are you inspired by S^yowah’s story? Contact Sarah Beley at info@workinggear.ca to learn about our volunteer program.

The All My Relations team (S^yowah far right)

Volunteer Spotlight: Paul G

One of the most inspiring and beautiful things of walking through the doors of Working Gear’s shop, is to arrive and be greeted by the wonderful volunteers. We’d like to take time during this holiday season to give them all a shout out, for being the awesome human beings that they are. Sharing their time and energy with the staff and clientele of Working Gear. Working Gear is primarily volunteer ran, without our lovely volunteers we simply would not be able to survive.

 

We had the opportunity to talk to the lovely Paul Gouldhawke, a volunteer who is always smiling, ready to help. Thank you Paul for taking the time to speak to us about your time volunteering at Working Gear. Here’s what he had to say about the organization. 

 

Paul, How did you hear about Working Gear?

About three years ago I came across Working Gear while searching the Internet.

 

How long have you been involved in the organization?

Almost three years. After working gear helped me obtain some construction gear, I volunteered. I was very  impressed by the care and assistance the volunteers provided to their clients. 

 

What is your favourite thing about the organization?

I think what I appreciate the most is the real difference Working Gear can make in someone’s life, often it is difficult to obtain all the gear or clothes when one is trying to return to work. We provide both construction and retail career outfits such as suits and shoes. 

 

What motivates you to volunteer your time in the shop?

I’ve volunteered in the past for other causes and I recognize the need for an organization like Working Gear. The volunteer staff are very friendly and they do make a real effort to assist clients in obtaining needed clothing. 

 

Can you share a special moment that you had while volunteering? or a story that has stayed with you?

We recently had a client new to Canada who volunteered with us after obtaining some interview clothing. He looked great in the suit he received and got the job the next day. This success is very motivating for our staff and organization. 

 

How much of an impact do you see working gear is making in the community?

I think we make quite a difference in the lives of  clients. It’s rewarding to see them find outfits and gear that will help them obtain work.  

 

What can you tell potential donors about this organization?

We put donations to good use benefiting others. Our shop is well organized and it  provides a unique service as the only organization of its type in Vancouver. 

 

How will their money contribute to your cause?

Monetary donations are used to purchase items that are most needed. Not all items required are donated, we do purchase items such as rain gear and gloves.

So donors can rest assured their money will be used carefully and fully appreciated. 

 

Special thanks to Paul Gouldhawke for sharing his story with us. 

 

Working Gear is always looking for motivated individuals interested in volunteering with us. For more information about how to get involved, please contact our volunteer coordinator at info@workinggear.ca

A simple act could have an immediate impact.” – Jessica L. Jimmo

A simple act could have an immediate impact.” – Jessica L. Jimmo

We had the opportunity to meet Jessica L. Jimmo, exiting Board Member. She has been an essential anchor to Working Gear’s advisory team. Jessica has been a volunteer for almost a decade. For an organization conceived just 12 years ago the numbers alone speak to her dedication and belief in the simple but mighty mission of Working Gear.

 

Today, few of us remember how heavily hit North America was by the Great Recession of 2008-09. What began as a response to the collapse of the United State’s real estate market also tore apart our British Columbia workforce. There was a sharp increase in unemployment from 4.6% in 2007 to 7.7%  just one year later in 2008 [link Via https://www.statista.com/statistics/569373/unemployment-rate-british-columbia-canada/] and so many men and women lost their livelihood.  

Recovery although consistent has only now returned to its pre-crisis rate. But the business world has changed. Employers are economical which forever shifted the work environment.

Unemployment rates

Graphic from https://www.statista.com

Jessica L. Jimmo knows how Working Gear has struggled to normalize and provide a sense of trust. When a candidate is given the tools that polish their look, cautious employers simply feel reassured. That’s an important but hard to measure benefit that endears the community, both clients and partner associations to Working Gear.

Jessica L. Jimmo reflects on her years with Working Gear.

HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN INVOLVED WITH WORKING GEAR AS A VOLUNTEER & BOARD MEMBER?

Nine years, 6 months, give or take. 

WHAT MOTIVATED YOU TO HELP THIS CAUSE?

I was motivated by people, the people we were serving and the people sitting around the board table. I was in awe of the resilience and good-will of the people who came through the Working Gear doors.  I was inspired by the dedication, compassion and integrity of the group of people who had been drawn together around Working Gear. 

WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE THING ABOUT THE ORGANIZATION? 

It’s how a simple act could have an immediate impact. I was drawn to the idea that a pair of boots could be given a second life and create an opportunity for someone who is ready to step on a job site and work towards financial stability.

WHAT IS THE TRUE IMPACT OF WORKING GEAR IN THE COMMUNITY?

All of what Working Gear is now was born out of the simple idea that all someone who was ready to work needed was a pair of boots to confidently walk on a job site and ask for the job they were qualified to do. 

It’s not about giving someone a fish or teaching them to fish, it was and always will be about giving them the fishing rod they needed to be successful. It’s about showing people dignity and giving them the tools to be able to reach for the opportunity. 

AND LASTLY,  AS THE OUTGOING BOARD MEMBER WHAT ADVICE OR MESSAGE WOULD YOU LIKE TO GIVE TO THE CURRENT BOARD MEMBERS AND/OR THE NEW BOARD MEMBERS?

That sometimes you need to go slow to go fast. Big change happens through a series of smaller steps. 

boots

In 2009 British Columbia needed the commitment of volunteers like Jessica L. Jimmo to bring Working Gear clients to a place where like the last recession, the darker days can be forgotten.

This is how YOU can make a lasting difference. Volunteerism, donations and spreading awareness. Jessica L. Jimmo’s legacy ensures that these small acts can be intelligently leveraged by Working Gear. If you are curious about how this is achieved we encourage you to learn more. [link: https://workinggear.ca/blog/5-reasons-you-know-your-donation-is-in-the-right-hands/]

“Working Gear is not complicated. We operate on very little. Our administrative team is small and our rent is negotiated to be very competitive. By carefully managing our administration costs any donations, whether financial or in-kind, go directly toward our services.”